I can always tell when it has been too long between hikes for Squishy. Sometimes it takes a few days for the light bulb to go off and alert me what our issue is. It’s like he has ants in his pants quite literally. He can’t sit still, can’t sleep. More important for us, he can not cope with the stimulation of everyday life. Melt downs become more frequent, more severe. He lashes out at his friends and me, almost as if he is fighting an internal battle. Which, I guess, he is. His requests for alone time become more frequent. Tears of frustration slipping down his cheeks as he begs me to hold him “just a little tighter”.
Squishy has always had more; more joy, more laughter, more love, more energy, more intensity, more frustration, just…more. He lives life full tilt with no apologies about it. He never learned to walk. He went from a crawl to a run and has never stopped. I love that zest in him. It is also my biggest challenge. My role as overseer of his childhood is guiding him to slow down, to think things through, and understand the consequences. When we get away alone, far from city noise, it centers him. Our adventures have become the largest and most effective tool in my toolbox. We love going on hikes with friends and meeting up for adventure school, but when we need to reset we go alone. I pick the adventure with intention. When we come down the mountain our bond needs to be strengthened, and his nerves need to be soothed.
I chose one of our favorite short hikes for this adventure. Indian Pools is a closely guarded (non)secret spot up above Shaver Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It has everything we need to find our peace. The tall Ponderosa’s provide breathtaking views as well as a shady canopy. Small, large, and ginormous granite boulders follow the trail and are perfect for little boys to climb and explore. There is also just enough animal evidence to make it interesting.
We started out a bit late in the day, and it was hard not to rush squishy through the trail. I constantly struggle with this every time we go out. One moment he is rushing through the trail so fast I am sure he is going to trip and end up needing stitches, the next he is spending a good 15 minutes examining what is left over from a chipmunk’s last meal. I found myself struggling with the reason we were out there. I needed to remember that it was those moments we were searching for .
We spent that fifteen minutes imagining what the chipmunk looked like. We pondered over where she was taking all the delicious pine nuts.I had to promise squishy that we would get pine nuts from the store so he could try them out. He tried to negotiate that one with me for a while. He wanted to break open a pine cone and try them right there. (Foraging is his one of his favorite hobbies) We decided that the chipmunk was most likely gathering up her stores for the winter to come, and it was a good sign that she was already foraging so diligently. Squishy conceded that she would need the pine nuts more than he would, to prepare for winter. It was right there, at the edge of no where, that the spark came back. He was opening up for more learning opportunities and nature therapy.
We brought Squishy’s new hiking stick with us, to get some practice in. I have been wanting him to get comfortable using it to help with concentration. When he uses his stick he must be more purposeful with his movements. He needs to stabilize his stick before moving forward, as well as develop a fluid rhythm traversing the rocky terrain. It is a skill that most people don’t even think twice about. Walking with the hiking stick allows Squishy to slow his mind down. As his mind slows he can become more aware of his body in general.
As we were poking around Big Creek Squishy saw some trail markers that went off to the west and wanted to explore them further.
Normally, I would not recommend going off trail in unfamiliar territory. These trails are very familiar to me, however. I have spent years, in all four seasons, navigating this terrain. This section of woods is like an old familiar friend to me, and I felt very comfortable letting squishy try out his navigation skills here.
As Squish spotted each new marker his confidence grew. He held his head a little higher and proclaimed himself the trail master. It was marvelous to watch. His head swiveling all around; first to find the next trail marker, then to find the forest’s secrets.
For much of the first leg of our journey, I let Squish forge through. Hiking his own hike, which is one of our lessons. He instinctively found obstacles to challenge himself. There was a particularly large pine that had lost her battle with the drought. She was easily three feet in diameter. He amazed me with his tenacity; scaling up her side and balancing down her trunk.Problem solving when he came to a branch that stood in his path. He stretched his limits, and worked on the gross motor skills that require more attention in him than other kids his age.
As it approached lunch time and I could see he was wearing down, we found a nice shady spot to discuss our plan. As he sucked down some salami and cheese, we looked at the map and figured out our location. We knew that our original trail followed Big Creek up to the pools and that we had headed west away from the creek. It was time to break out Squishy’s new compass. We talked about which way we should head (since we had gone west, we would need to go east to get back to the creek) and did a quick refresher on how to read the compass. Since he was feeling so at ease leading our small party, I let him find the way back. I also had my compass app on my phone open, to double check his readings…of course.
Sure enough, he led us right to the creek. Although, the last stretch he used his other senses to find the water. He got so excited when he heard the tinkle of the lazy current. It was a balm to both our souls. Not much more than a trickle during the fall months, the waterfalls slid over the granite boulders creating shallow pools to soak our tired toes.
It took us 3 hours to travel what the map said was only 0.8 miles. A straight line wasn’t happening that day, obviously, but life learning was. When we finally made it to the pools, Squishy asked for some alone time. He was tired and it was the perfect spot to relax.
We came down the mountain refreshed and renewed.There will always be struggles ahead, but our mountains are only a short drive away.
When you are overwhelmed and struggling to find your center, step outside and take a deep breath. The mountains are calling…Where do you find your calm?