Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Other Side of In-Between

 Disclaimer: I promise this will end on an UP note!

Throughout the month of November there has been a challenge in the online world of Facebook to post each day something for which to be thankful. Many friends posted daily and some posted a week's worth at a time. Although I am of a thankful mind on just about every day, I chose not to participate. Those who know me are not surprised of this, as I do not participate much in any FB games or chain mail. Let me be clear: I am thankful almost everyday. I love my life and wouldn't change it. Nor am I particularly morose or without thanks this time of year.

November is a difficult month for me. Six years years ago on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my mother passed away. It was both a sad and thankful moment as she finally rested after 10 years of cancer. She celebrated her life throughout the illness and we celebrate her life today. Even still, it makes Thanksgiving a tough turkey to swallow.

As traditions go, Thanksgiving was a holiday like most. The family gathered for the big feast and hung out with each other. In earliest years we gathered at the Grandparents so that we could celebrate with the uncles, aunts, and cousins. Later we gathered at Mom's to celebrate with siblings who no longer lived at home. We also brought in our many strays - those for whom family had different meanings. Eventually though Thanksgiving became the one holiday we children relinquished to our spouses' families. Since we still gathered weekly for Sunday supper, Thanksgiving became less important to us than the bigger religious days. That last Thanksgiving was bittersweet. We gathered, laughed, ate, and celebrated. It was a good time.

For six years now Thanksgiving has come and gone without much fanfare. No, it hasn't been a sad affair, just more like any other family gathering. We show up, we visit, we eat and go home.There has been little "tradition" associated other than it being an extra family day. This year we decided to try something different. We went camping!

I've known many people who take off for the long weekend to camp or buggy in dunes. While it sounded fun, to me it would lack the whole family atmosphere of gathering for the holiday. Besides, we aren't dune buggy people. Regardless, this year the long weekend came with a whole week off from school for the boys and Nichole, and an extra day off for me. It was the perfect circumstance for a family vacation.

We trekked about two hours east towards Yuma, AZ. Just this side of the state line is a beautiful California State Park called Picacho SRA. It is near the dunes but far enough away; tucked into the Chocolate Mountains and Picacho Peak.  I'd never heard of it, despite the fact that it is a historical landmark where the large (2,500) mining town of Picacho once stood on the banks of the Colorado River.

Picacho is a beautiful secret. The desert is filled with volcanic stones, ash and quartz. In fact the hills have less dirt than rock. The rocks are polished by the elements to give a dark brown, or chocolate colored varnish, glittered with white and rose quartz. The campground is spacious with each site spread out for privacy. Fall is peak season - beginning with Thanksgiving weekend - and still our nearest camp neighbor was three sites away. The camp had plenty of residents, but was quiet and as peaceful as a night alone in the desert.

The near full moon rose midday and lit the clear sky nightly so that flashlights were only needed in the shadowed areas. In the wee morning hours after the moon set, billions of stars no longer viewed from city locations lit the sky almost as brightly. The boys were so tired I just couldn't wake them to look up, but I did make sure Nichole saw the stars. They reminded me of the years ago when our night sky was more about stars than streetlights.

We fished and each boy caught his first fish. What a great way to get the boys interested in fishing but to actually catch something! We caught 3 striped bass, 3 calico, and one bluegill. I didn't fish - no license - but it took both me and Nichole to manage the boys' lines and worms. Nichole even baited hooks while I rigged poles. Even funnier was watching her "hold" a fish and take the hooks out. Keep in mind though that these little guys weren't even big enough for a fish taco. Regardless, we cleaned and fried them up. Two bites for each of us except Austin.

Austin loves animals. Well, they all do. But Austin refused to eat the fish. After we questioned him a little, we saw something rare to him - compassion. Our little guy didn't like the fact that we'd killed the fish. Austin who seems to feel nothing for others, was near tears over this. In fact, the next day when we tried fishing again and caught only one... he insisted we let it go.

We hiked... and hiked. The first hike was supposed to be the historical trail to the mining camp. A misunderstanding with the ranger, and a park map not clearly marked - oh alright and me in the lead - took us in the opposite direction. We found an animal trail along a ridge that lead away from camp. It was a great trail with great views. We went as far as we dared with our snacks and two canteens. I bet it was about three miles or more and the hike took us about four hours. Along the way we were visited by the wild burros, descendants of the miners' burrow set free over 100 years ago. There was a family of four. Three adults and a yearling. The boys were fascinated at how the older burros circled the baby for protection, and at for how long the burros watched us as we carefully tread away to a different trail. After our snack lunch, we turned back toward camp - following various landmarks until we found the main road and moved to easier ground.

On our last day, after packing and before leaving, we decided to find the historical trail. It is a clearly marked trail with an even clearer trail-head, and completely in the opposite direction of where we started the day before. I let the boys lead this time.  In some ways the trail was easier, but it went up and down and involved a little more scrambling. It was well worth it. This is the trail with all the park history. We hiked volcanic fields of rock, visited the old jail - a cave with bars, and found remnants of mining mills, rail cars and other scatter of 100 years before.With our second four-hour hike behind us, we piled into the air-conditioned truck and headed for home.

What has this to do with Thanksgiving? Well, our Thanksgiving feast of Turkey, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and pumpkin pie, was cooked in and eaten by the campfire. We put the turkey in a dutch oven and cooked it in the fire on hot rocks, wrapped potatoes in foil and threw them into the fire, wet our corn and threw it in as well. Everything was delicious! Okay, we didn't put the potatoes on soon enough so they were not cooked and therefore not eaten. But everything else was. We brought a store-bought pumpkin pie and whipped cream for dessert in the desert and topped it off with hot cider and roasted marshmallows.

The Picacho campground is definitely a "go back again" camp. We will visit another time and hike a few more trails. Maybe even canoe a little on the river. Who knows?  We have agreed that our small branch of the larger family has its own new tradition. We plan to camp over Thanksgiving next year and for as many years as we can. We may go back to Picacho, or we may try new places each year. The details need to be worked out. But what I take away from this Thanksgiving, is that I've reached the other-side of in-between.