M stayed home from school sick Friday--he had gotten sick at school on Thursday and was in that sort of post-illness stage where you feel better, but not quite ready to face the world, so E, Z and I took the day off from work/preschool and stayed home with him. By mid-morning M was well enough to be bouncing off the walls, and by afternoon, he had hatched a plan to hike our trail down to the river--by himself.
I was actually delighted by this suggestion--M rarely ventures out of sight of the house, and I was happy to see him ready to take on the challenge of a hike to the river. Z decided he wanted to go with him, and M seemed glad of the company on his first venture. By the time I had Z dressed up in pants, mud boots and jacket, E decided he wanted to go too. As they went out the door, E asked if I would go with them, but, as is often the case on days I devote to house cleaning, I was still in my pajamas, and I knew M wanted to be in charge on this adventure. I had also just read a book by a woman whose children, growing up in Jackson Hole in the 1930s and '40s, had formed the "Gang of the Mountains" with other neighborhood children and had freely roamed the hillsides and mountains that formed their backyard. I wanted some of that freedom and adventure for my own offspring.
M has been on the trail a million times since he was a little baby, so he should know the way pretty well. However, it is mostly a fall-winter-early spring trail, since we abandon it once the bugs get too bad. Through neglect the vegetation--raspberry bushes, ferns, waist-high asters--obscures much of the trail in several areas.
I checked the clock after they went out--ten past three--and decided that if they weren't back by four, I'd go out in search of them. I busied myself with cleaning the kitchen, until about 3:30. I opened the door to see if I could here anything. UPS had dropped a box, and I was imagining one bloody, child crawling out of the woods just as the driver came up to the door, begging him to go out and rescue the other two who were just now being swept downstream.
I went back to cleaning, telling myself I would get dressed at 3:45. Then I wondered what I would do if M came back to say one of his brothers was lost or had fallen in the river. Would I sprint out through the woods in my jammies and slippers or take the time to put on jeans and sneakers?
I got dressed. I imagined I heard something outside and opened the door again. Nothing. I finished loading the dishwasher. I heard something again and checked outside. Just the wind in the trees. I wiped down the counters. Then I heard it--three boys chattering. I watched them troop up the last little rise to our house.
They came inside and declared their success--Z said he had fallen down twice; M amended that to 100 times and also said that E almost started crying but didn't. He also said the river was so low you could almost walk across it (M: Please don't ever walk across the river) and they had collected a small ball of clay from the exposed river bottom. I think we have the beginnings of the "Gang of the River."