The Gift of Experience

It has been a long time since we have updated the blog.  Honestly, I got caught… between the past and the present.  It’s been months since the summer travels have been done, but we have so much more to share since our return home in August.  Of course, we ended up sharing none of it!  In the heart of his first trimester of middle school, Ethan bridged that gap for me.  While we have not finished sharing the summer (actually, probably my favorite spot of the summer), Ethan wrote this essay for school about one of our favorite hikes there, Piegan Pass, his first 16 mile hike in Glacier National Park.

“Crunch, crunch, crunch… we were about to summit Piegan Pass, and all of us were panting and treading very hard.  On the top of the mountain, there I was, Ethan Hoff, looking down on the beautifully authentic Montana backcountry. This was my favorite place I have ever been.  It was better than the Grand Canyon, or the Washington Monument, anything there was.  Among this beauty, however, lurked many dangers, the grizzly bear, mountain lions, and even more than that…

Prior to the hike, I was packing my huge bag full of snacks and clothes. We took the shuttle that went from our base camp at St Mary’s Campground to Siyeh Bend, the trailhead to the hike that made knots in my stomach. My two brothers, my Mom, and I started the hike through a rough trail, some thick woods, showing evidence that this trail was not well visited.  However, despite those difficulties, we arrived in a spot covered in millions of flowers, and trees with every color of the rainbow. In an opening, I spotted the insanely large pass, and told my younger brother, who started to complain and whine about hiking. My mom started to explain how she used to backpack and go on hikes even harder than this.  I wonder why she doesn’t anymore.  We spotted an enormous glacier that we would have to eventually pass. We had already hiked about four or five miles.  We approached the glacier crossing, knowing we were at high risk being at such high elevation, and hiking on slippery ice. However, we crossed, safe and sound.

About a mile later, we were ascending up a steep slope, and going through the pass between the two mountains. As we approached the top, it got harder and harder to breath, our footsteps got heavier and we were all panting like dogs.  At the summit, we knew  it would be about eight or nine miles down, but it would be very rewarding. We finally arrived at the summit. I looked down and… I could see the world around me. There were waterfalls in the distance. We saw the ground below covered in bright wildflowers, and the greenest of grass.  No gardener’s work could compare. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  We took some pictures, ate lunch, and descended, sad to leave that sight. We arrived in beautiful meadows surrounded by a close mountain bowl, still seeing the enormous pass.  The descent was about 2 miles straight down, very hard on our knees.  Again, we saw about three waterfalls cascading off of the mountains.

The way back was a rugged, rocky trail that was about six or seven miles. It showed the beautiful mountain scenery. The hike led us to three small lakes, each as bright as a sapphire, almost purified water, and as clear as glass.  I would always remember this.  We persevered until we came to a notable stop. There was a huge river with a raging current, and the trail was nowhere to be seen.  My mom told me to take off my shoes and venture across to find the trail, and I did, finding the trail, soaking me and my pack almost getting wet.  My mom and brothers crossed.  My youngest brother had taken about thirty minutes to put on his shoes and socks on his wet feet, while two rugged looking backpackers decided to strip down and take a swim at this very spot.  My mom hurried my brothers and I along.  We finished up the hike and made it to the Many Glacier Lodge.  We were all exhausted. Finally, the biggest challenge was getting back into the RV, and onto the couch, even though I had just hiked seventeen miles.

In the end, I learned to respect the nature that is left on the world. Despite these beauties, I also realized that powerful things roamed these places.  I gained respect for the little things, and the biggest most predatory creatures.  A glorious mountain pass made me look on the more genuine side of nature, and not the kind from the movie.”

Ethan wrote this essay about the first time he hiked Piegan Pass, and we repeated that trip this year with Chuck and the girls.  We were equally impressed with this year’s hike.  I just love hearing their perspective about these times!  We never wonder if the “gift of experience” we have been giving our kids is better than the “stuff” we could buy instead, but his smooth adjustment to what I consider the roughest school transition has only confirmed what we already believe.  Why?  Probably because in the time when uncertainty and defining identities is most prevalent, our first-born already knows who he is… through all the experiences, he knows exactly what he loves.  Through all of his experiences in his first 12 years of life,  we know he is a self-motivated, smart, observant, happy, life-loving boy and he knows he’s a camper, Boy Scout, runner, hiker, biker, swimmer, soccer player, musician, friend, and more.  One of his first projects was to bring in some objects that could tell his class who he is.  He came home stating that many of his classmates brought in video games, etc, and said his teacher thought his (which included a national park map, boy scout neckerchief, running shoe, and more) was incredibly interesting.  The shimmers of doubt over the past few years from knowing he was different from the majority have started to fade away into a confident, happy kid who we are incredibly proud of.  This picture is from the regular Friday runs he and some of his friends take after school each week.   Boys and girls start to blend together, and what better way to do this than to do something that encourages friendship, exercise, improvement, and of course, ice cream 🙂

In this holiday season of giving, I am going to diverge from the summer for one more post in the next few days.  A few friends and I have been sharing a few Christmas ideas in light of the values in the “gift of experience,” and in case anyone is still shopping, I am going to make a  quick list of “things” that I call “Experience-Giving Gifts.”  After that, I am going to attempt to finish out our summer travel blogging before Christmas.  Stay tuned!


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