Marriage is hard and life is hard. But it is also beautiful, thrilling and amazing. Therefore it was only fitting that we spent our 11 year anniversary doing something hard, beautiful, thrilling and amazing as family. We hiked Oneonta Falls Gorge in Oregon. This hike, like marriage, was a dream come true. This hike, like marriage, was also difficult, scary, achingly beautiful and more than once I thought to myself, we're crazy for doing this. As it turns out, this hike was a living metaphor of our last 11 years of marriage. Allow me to elaborate.
See a week or two before our Oregon road trip I saw one of those 50 most beautiful places in the US with a photo of Oneonta Falls. I took a screenshot and that was it... I was all in baby! Which I liken to seeing photos of a gorgeous wedding day where it can seem like marriage is all about romance, similarities and a seamless transition of two lives into one. What's not desirable about that? But also, like marriage, I had my reservations--this hike was more than just a pretty photo op. Was it too dangerous? What about the kids? Would it be too much work? Should we just do it alone? Will it be worth the risk?
The more we looked into the hike the more apprehensive we became. First you have to climb over a giant log jam (which turned out to be bigger in person), you hike through water and at some point you even swim through a pool of water that is chest high when the water level is low. As an individual or a couple none of this is a big deal, but as a family this means that both B and I do all of this with a child strapped to our backs, while our oldest does it (mostly) alone. It reminds me of that Jim Gaffagin bit about having 5 kids... "What's it like to have 5 kids? Imagine that your drowning and then someone hands you a baby." What's it like to hike Oneonta falls as a family? Imagine you're climbing over giant logs that are slippery and wet with jagged rocks below and swimming through ice cold, chest deep water... and then someone straps a toddler to your back.
This conundrum, is me to the core. I want adventure and thrills but lets just take a second and write up a risk assessment spreadsheet with all foreseeable variables before we begin.
In the end we decided to drive up to Oneonta Falls, and if it looked too dangerous we'd turn back. We'll go only as far as we feel comfortable going, we told ourselves.
You guys, when B and I were engaged and I started to experience cold feet he asked me when I would know for sure and I said, "I don't know... but if I get to the temple that morning and I'm not feeling it, I won't go through with it."
Alrighty then! Not exactly the rock solid guarantee he was probably looking for, but being me and my I-want-it-all-but-holy-crap-that-sounds-scary-self it was as honest as I could be. 11 years to the day and my plan was exactly the same: drive up to the meeting place and if we felt good about it, then we would move forward. As I'm writing this I keep putting my hand to my forehead realizing what I must have put my poor husband through. Obviously, thankfully + wholeheartedly, we pushed forward on both accounts.
The morning before the hike was rough. I won't go into too much detail but one of our offspring was bring some major pre-hike attitude to the table. There was legit weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. This was our family in a low moment and I may or may not have also contributed to that low. It wasn't pretty. I didn't handle it well. (To be clear, I'm not making any comparisons to my wedding morning here. My feet were warm and ready to go.... all in baby.) And if I wasn't handling it well it probably goes without saying that said offspring wasn't handling it well either. And on that note we reluctantly made our way down to the mostly empty bottom river bed. Lesson #1. Circumstances in life are not always favorable, push forward anyway. There is beauty ahead.
Apparently there is more or less water depending on the time of year, we had less water at this time. The log jam is at the beginning of the hike so with Lamp on dad's back and Zuzu on mine, and PSP's capable climbing legs we got started. And once we started climbing I knew there was no going back. Once we committed, we committed, that that was it. I don't have great pictures of this part because this was not a stop and take pictures kind of climb. You need both hands and sure footing the entire time. But I did manage to get this one before we put the camera away.
Truth be told, it was dangerous. If I fell with Zuzu on my back she could have been hurt. Instinctively, I did what I always do when I feel afraid or troubled: I asked B if he would stay by me and hold my hand the entire time. And he did. I mean we were both in the exact same precarious situation with two of our favorite children on our backs, if either one of us slipped we could have pulled the other down with us. I recognized that asking for his steadiness while on the very same precarious platform is not the usual mode of safety. Ideally one person should be on sure footing when helping another person who is not on sure footing. But this is not marriage. Marriage requires great vulnerability of both parties and that vulnerability multiplies with children. Lesson #2: Marriage is walking through the perils of life together where the most steady thing you have to hang onto is each other...which isn't always that steady. But your life, and to a certain extent, your children's life depend on it.
Sidenote: One of the sweetest things through out the hike were the little encouraging comments Zuzu kept saying while on my back. "You so strong mommy! You can do it mom! Wow! You so strong!" With absolutely no prompting from anyone, her little encouragements were tender affirmations that kept prompting me on. Another parallel: my children are some of my biggest cheerleaders, teachers and encouragers.
Once we were safely over the log jam we were already in jaw-dropping gorgeousness and the words worth it... this is so worth it kept escaping our lips. The little dark cloud that had accompanied the beginning of our hike had evaporated with the morning mist. Nature wrung the bad vibes right out of us. Over the years, B and I have gotten much better at keeping a loose grip on our negative feelings. They slide more easily out of our fingers and we cling to the good more fiercely. That's a skill. And as I watched said offspring let those bad vibes drip away, I wanted to thank the gorge for giving her permission to let go and move on. I too find myself looking for beauty, humor, gratitude and love to fall into so I have permission to move on.
Not only did I carry a baby on my back, but at one point I carried my oldest over the water to avoid her feet getting wet. Not only did I feel physically stronger, but there is an emotional synergy at play as well. How many times do we carry our kids through the things they can't yet do themselves? A lot. I don't mean this as a point of pride or of boasting, it's a fulfillment of our responsibilities. And the benefits extend to both parties, parent and child. Lesson #3: Life is much more difficult with our kids and also so much more meaningful and worthwhile. Being a good parent isn't just for your child's benefit, it's for yours as well.
This was the point that we had to take the girls to the side, get them out of the backpacks while B carried each girl over the water on his shoulders one at a time. For B, the water was a little more than waist high, for me it went to the bottom of my sports bra and it was cold. At one point I looked up at the scenery while crossing through the chest deep cold water and said, it takes your breath away, and smiled at the double meaning. Lesson #4: Life isn't either/or, often it is and... beautiful and painful, scary and worthwhile, difficult and awesome.
We made it. And it was everything we could want from an 11 year anniversary hike that was also a metaphor for marriage: holding on to each other for steadiness and strength, difficult and jaw-droopingly beautiful at the same time, more meaningful and more difficult with children, carrying our kids through the stuff they can't yet do on their own. That is exactly our past eleven years.
And if we're lucky, many more to come.
p.s. Go read The Course of Love now