Time Out

Family is wonderful. There are times when I could spend, oh, entire hours with my family without going crazy. No, really. Contrary to our outward social appearances, Devon and I are kind of loners. Back when we were dating, we’d alternate driving the roughly 300 miles up/down to Eugene/Seattle once a month to see each other. We’d say our fond “hello”s, chat enthusiastically for a few minutes, then plonk down somewhere to read our respective books and mostly ignore each other. We both needed a lot of “alone time” and, since we understood each others’ rules, it was a simple thing to spend it together. A blissful existence.

Now, loners don’t normally reproduce in the wild, but somewhere along the way we got married (albeit while living 3000 miles apart) and had kids (living, finally, under the same roof). And a strange thing happened: there were these new people in the house. Very short people. Who tended to be loud at inconvenient hours and demanded to be fed, changed and paid attention to on a fairly regular basis. Needless to say, all that “alone time” went right out the door. Being the “non-primary caregiver”, I still managed to get some from time to time, but we both learned to cope with a lot less than we needed. Along with sleep, come to think of it.

The kids are much older now and need their own bits of cave time, but once you have four people trying to be alone in the same place, the dynamics aren’t quite so smooth. So Devon and I have become pretty unquestioning when either of us needs to bug out for a bit. It usually goes like this:

“Gah! I need to get out of the house for a bit.”

“Home for dinner?”

“Don’t know. Will call if the answer’s ‘yes’.”

“K’. Bye.”

We’ve been traveling together as family for about five days now, and my bug-out-o-meter went “ding!” this morning.

“I need to get out of the house. I think I’m going to go hike Tahoe Meadows.”

“I have no desire to hike Tahoe Meadows this morning.”

“That’s okay.”

“Bye!”

There was a little more to the conversation than that, but not much more.

Tahoe Meadows is a short little nature loop just off the Mount Rose Highway above Incline Village. When we’re up here in the summer, we usually drag the kids around it once, complaining much of the way. We tend to be more successful on these drags if we’ve brought along friends with kids of their own, which minimizes the attention adults need to pay to their offspring.

It was different in the winter. Quiet and still, despite a December wind dropping from the ridge above and whistling through the frozen, dried grass. Crows harassed each other from the treetops, but the path was empty. The stream running down from Slide Mountain had frozen where it slowed in the flats, then overrun its banks and filled the meadow with an undulating sheet of ice, captured as if in a snapshot. Nothing moving but the windblown grass.

It was cold, and I relished the cold as much as the quiet. I should have brought gloves, of course, but holding my hands out for balance as I crossed the ice brought a nostalgic sting to my fingertips. I hadn’t been cold in a while, not this way. Sure, we’d had a few morning frosts in Palo Alto, but then you always climbed into your car, set the defroster on “high” and trundled in to the office listening to NPR on your morning commute. This was different – it was an outdoors kind of cold. When I closed my eyes – yes, I really did a couple of times – I could feel myself back on The Ice. Not “the ice” – “The Ice”. My fingers always stung like that when I was working Cargo. Rest of me nice and warm, but my fingers always got cold. Even after Bryce showed me the trick about putting the warmers on the back of my hands, where the arterial blood brought heat to my fingers. Even after OV scored me a pair of the coveted Carhartt gloves that folks out working the berms swore by. My fingers always stung like this back then. That was a special time.

I like pointing out to people that I missed winter last year: left Palo Alto in the fall and crossed over to the Southern hemisphere where spring was blooming. Didn’t return home until March, when winter was hustling to not let the door hit its butt on the way out. Sure, the South Pole counts for something – even mid-summer. But it’s not technically “winter”. The short days, for example – it still throws how early it gets dark (yeah, yeah – my friends in Seattle and Minneapolis are having a good laugh at this. Go ahead, you deserve it. If anything, the Pole made me a wimp.)

And today – honestly, here? It wasn’t that cold. Down by the lake it was positively balmy – something like 40F, and probably close to 30F up where I was. If I put my hands in my pockets, they were nice and warm, but I had them out for balance on the ice. Besides, I liked the feeling.

Anyhow, it was what I needed. A couple of hours wandering around in the solitude, communing with the crows, and I’m back in kilter. Was ready to face family again. And I even made it most of the way back by the time Devon called to tell me that she was stuck at home with the kids, because I’d forgotten to leave her the car keys.

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