Our Mother-Son Hike Was Troubled, But It Healed Something In Us After So Long Inside | Meg hitchick


I won’t lie: the huge tree that toppled without warning was disturbing.

The evening had been otherwise calm, without a breath of wind since before nightfall. The only other sounds in the valley were the songs of owls and frogs, and the four of us were literally a mile away from it all, the closest sign of civilization being a trail of fire over an hour away. walk north. Our 11-year-olds were already zipped into their sleeping bags, but not yet asleep. My comrade “adventure mom” and I were about to spend a night and crawl into our respective tents, when suddenly: a noise BREAK, followed by a huge rolling crunch from somewhere on the hill above.

During that long roaring moment, my body froze as my mom’s brain began to roar. What is that? Was the whole hill about to fall on us in an avalanche? By choosing this place to camp, have I doomed us all? What are we even doing here hiking in the middle of nowhere with randomly falling wood when we could be home, tucked away safely in our perfectly good beds?

Fortunately, by the time the roar died down and the worried little voice cried out from the tent (“Mum? Mum ?! was that ?! My own voice sounded quite calm. “Just a falling tree, baby.” It won’t hurt us. Go to sleep. I will be next to you soon. Turns out an 11-year-old boy is tall and brave enough to carry a backpack, hurtle down a rocky hill, jump feet first into a dark pool atop a waterfall, and watch for snakes in the brush. – but not too tall or brave for the reassuring proximity of his mother in the unknown darkness.

By morning we were frozen but unharmed, and the Tale of the Falling Tree had become exactly that – a new legend, a story our young warriors were to tell about the danger faced and survived on their journey through the wilderness. We laughed around our hotplates at the fright of those few seconds, as the kids rushed off, hitting things with sticks. We traded field notes from the night’s experience: who had the worst sleeping bag, who heard the wombat sniffing around the campsite, who smelled the worst. We ate gooey porridge and struggled to put everything back in the hiking bags. The water filter broke, so we proceeded to carefully boil several gallons of stream water to drink. We climbed the steep, now warm hill, making our way through the thick fern stands. None of this seemed to be the kind of thing you would call ‘fun’, and yet when our little troop came out tired, bug-bitten and victorious in the bush, the boys moaned that they didn’t want the trip. ends, and started pestering us for the next one.

It is a strange phenomenon, this “type 2 fun”, in which difficult, frightening or uncomfortable experiences become the material of happy memories. As I explained to my backpacker friends on a difficult part of the walk, this kind of fun is best when you don’t have it anymore. It is the joy of living in its purest form to tell the story.

The concept of enjoying self-inflicted hardships in nature is not new to me. I’ve done quite a few outdoor adventures in my 40s and you learn to revel in the roughness of it all. It hardly occurs to me to ask “why?” »Why carry all the equipment on my back when I could pay for a more pleasant stay? Why punish me for a long hard walk when I could drive? Why go in search of these adventures?

The Falling Tree reminded me to ask these questions because the uncomfortable truth is that the outdoors has inherent dangers. Things can and do go wrong on the trail. Despite my oft-stated ambition to be “the prepared walker I would like to meet if I got into trouble in the bush”, there is no consideration of all possibilities – as the broken water filter proves. , the tree, inadequate sleeping bags and countless other little hiccups. Taking young children into the unknown sounds like a special gamble. When my friend and I decided on this trip with our boys, we thought we knew our “why”. “It’ll be fun!” we said to each other. “They need exercise! Children need to be in the bush – to be free to run, roam and be loud! “

I suspect we are both instinctively looking for an antidote to a snowball of parental guilt – in my case, brought on by the Great Screen Binge of 2021. We did a year of Netflix a week and watched probably half of YouTube. This led to a withdrawal process akin to harsh substance detoxification: mood swings, temper tantrums, devious behavior (and possibly criminal activity, as far as I know). The regret of the screen definitely played a role in my decision to launch our adventure far beyond the reach of 4G.

“By opening up to this kind of risk and sharing adversity with our little people, we gently reminded ourselves of the beautiful fragility of life.” Photograph: Supplied

The benefits of hiking in nature are well demonstrated. Forest baths are proven to improve mental well-being, and the simple process of walking has a medicinal effect on the brain and body. But by taking the risk of a mother-son bush trip, we got more than we expected. As we pushed the physical limits and forced our bodies (and our sons) to feel that tinge of fear and doubt, we felt like we healed a loophole in ourselves, something damaged by many pandemic months of the past. curl up inside, wallow in the need for avoidance behavior.

Our children embraced nature with abandon. Sitting and watching the sunset, we tried not to flinch or pamper as the boys precariously jumped through a waterfall, screaming and laughing. I realized that by opening up to this kind of risk, and by sharing adversity with our little people, we gently remember the beautiful fragility of life. From this awareness comes connection, and from vulnerability comes resilience.

After only a weekend, the gratitude we feel for the tree and for being able to breathe the next breath runs deep.

Meg Hitchick is a midwife, teacher and campus coordinator of an alternative high school for vulnerable youth with a focus on wellness and resilience. She lives in the NSW area with her partner, three sons and two dogs

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