Weight: An Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide to Parenthood


This is what I need.

This is what I can carry.

This is what I want.

These are the existential considerations of the backpacker for whom everything is about weight.  You inventory it as you hike:  the water sloshing around in your water bottle, the bottle itself, maps, trail mix, cheese sticks, energy bars, dehydrated meals, tent, sleeping bag, portable stove, waterproof matches, water purifier, compass, Swiss Army knife, and lastly, and perhaps most important, the paper you will use to wipe your ass.  It all adds up to agony on your shoulders and a bliss achieved only when you place it all on the ground as you pause by a gurgling stream for some lunch.



This is what I want.

This is what I need.

This is what I can carry.

I sometimes repeat these words in varying order like a mantra when I am feeling entrapped and vulnerable to some act of foolishness.  They seem to help.  What I am getting at is I am a married man employed by an at best indifferent, at times sadistic, quasi-government bureaucracy known as the Post Office.  I have small children.  These are all blessings to be sure, but what I don’t have is a surfeit of free-time.  I find myself frustrated and consumed by worldly hassles.  I won’t bore you with my problems–they are middle-class and tame.  I have seen dogs go insane tethered like this.  They snap at whatever passes.

I have not backpacked since becoming a father.  I have encountered those rare parents who continue their adventures as before, diapers and Desitin in tow.  I do not have their athleticism.  I am afraid of bears, at least where the sweet flesh of babies is concerned.  My oldest is seven now.  He has been to Yellowstone.  We camp as a family in Minnesota’s lovely state parks.  Twice a year I make the backpacking suggestion.  I have gotten him to a maybe.

I do not want to misrepresent myself as an accomplished backpacker.  I had just developed a taste for the endeavor when our son was born.  When Emily was pregnant I began to panic.  I calculated the loss of my freedom by the certain decline of my vigor and came to the inevitable conclusion that I was fucked.  I studied maps and made bucket-list plans for at least a dozen adventures.  Some of them involved bicycles and canoes.  I bemoaned my never having gone to Spain or Alaska.  “You can do all that stuff when they get older,” my wife tried to assuage me.



After my son was born weighing 7 pounds and 14 ounces, I took a trip by myself to the Black Hills.  I hiked in the Badlands on alien terrain resembling caked hills of salt.  I IMG_2756camped beside Sylvan Lake in the IMG_2982exact spot occupied by Emily and me on our honeymoon.  I caught many trout with my fly-rod.  I saw a painted bunting as I ambled though an emerald forest in waders.  I returned home early because I yearned to be with my son, because I felt anxious and guilty.  I held him in my lap—small, fragile and puffy-eyed—feeling like I belonged.  His lightness terrified me.

On our last shared adventure as childless people, Emily and I backpacked Glacier National Park together.  She would have been pregnant then, unbeknownst to either of us.  Miles couldn’t have weighed much more than the endosperm of a peanut.  I have a picture of her from that trip above my desk.  The wind from the mountain pass whips her hair.  Her smile is full of confidence and vitality.


One would never guess she carries a cancerous tumor inside her either, like some second black egg.  (We never asked the surgeon for its weight although I am sure somewhere it has been recorded.)  Rugged, granite peaks rise over her shoulder as fierce and stormy clouds scud by overhead.  A man-made tunnel had been carved through the mountain with an iron door like something out of Lord of the RingsIMG_2207A park ranger told us a story of a grizzly passing through the tunnel with someone inside clinging to the walls in fright.  I was inclined not to believe her, but there was a bear warning tagged near the tunnel entrance.  All we thought about while we were in Glacier was bears.  We were flatlanders travelling through a forbidden land of hunger and menace.

As parents we calculate weight in terms of night terrors and lost sleep, allergic reactions and doctor’s visits, bus stops and soccer practices, tantrums and loose teeth.  We wait for that respite from their demands created by their sleeping hours.  We take off our packs and rest.  We revisit our maps and enjoy a glass of wine.

This is what I want.

This is what I need.

This is what I can carry.

How much does love weigh?

You won’t know until it leaves you.



One thought on “Weight: An Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide to Parenthood

  1. Another great story to keep us thinking. I look forward to reading these Crow City glimpses into the life of a young family. Keep up the storytelling. You do a wonderful job with feelings and emotions. Looking forward to the next installment.


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