My daughter comes back to me with a feral look. Her cheeks are buffed apples. Her eyes have a gaze that takes in everything at once and calm even in the thrum of a 21st century airport It’s been 40 days since I put her on a plane to Alaska for a trip into the bush. She walks with a long glide I’ve not seen—such push and sureness. The sureness of a wild thing alert in a sea of so many people. She has grown deeper into her animal body. And grown out of the adolescent marketplace of cool.
She’s just spent 35 days walking in the Denali wilderness with a 60-pound pack, traveling miles everyday with a group of12 others learning survival navigation and most of all group dynamics. Saw no other people for the whole time. She is thrilled to learn how little one really needs and has come to cherish her Whisperlite stove. Trusted little friend. Good boots, and a good tent and a good sleeping bag make her world complete.
The day following her return, she can’t bear to be in the house so we go for a hike up Mt Wittenberg in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I am puffing up the hill that I have climbed a few times a year for the last 30 years. “Why are you making that noise?” she chides, “You’re scaring the birds.” We are moving quickly and I’m panting so hard I can’t come back with my usual irony. She is gliding uphill like a deer, breathing like she was reading in bed.
“What animals did you see?” “Lots of caribou, and a few bears. Foxes and Ptarmigan and pesky varmints rummaging around in the night. “We were high up,” she says, “so not many bugs, but I heard that bird we have in the fall, that ‘three blind mice bird’.” It’s the Golden- Crowned Sparrow distinctive for the three descending notes of its call. It’s amazing to know about migration from a book but really becomes a true understanding when you sense the sound of its travel in your own ears. It brings knowing into a stunning fact that these tiny fluffs of feathers travel 6000 miles a year, showing up in our front yard like clockwork the first week of every October. And more amazing to me, my daughter showing up metamorphosed, returned from her migration to the feeding grounds of experience, this time, grown into the legacy of her animal self.