The hill was steep enough that I had to stop, my lungs heavy and legs slightly burning. I pretended to fiddle with my camera and stared into the valley below. The boys waited further ahead, one closer than the other, with the dog loudly panting. The walk was my idea.
We had started for their favorite oak tree, one of several in the area that have sprouted rope swings from their massive branches, but found it occupied by three teens and an Instagram account. They were listening to John Denver, sprawled upon a blanket beneath leaf and cloud, with the feet of their friends floating into frame then out again. Some men rode between us on mountain bikes, nodding as a greeting. A hawk flew overhead.
It had been reluctance that led us there, despite our collective need for exercise, clean air and time spent wandering through it. We were stuck in another day of sedentary rote, indoors and uninspired, one roof over many walls, the lazy leave of an unwrapped holiday break and backpacks still untouched. We festered in our shared seclusion, some of us louder than others. It was time to leave the house, whether we wanted to or not.
The hawk, sensing my labors, circled around again, doing the math and crying about it. Further along, the boys were waiting, one with questions and one always questioning. I followed in their footsteps. It wasn’t lost on me.
I have become my own example.
“What do you think is the biggest problem in the world right now?” I asked either of them upon the crest. One looked into the distance, the other at a dead scorpion on the ground.
“Hunger?” asked one.
“Disease?” asked the other.
“Poverty?” I added. “War?”
It was January, us outside and sweating.
“They are all related, aren’t they?” I asked.
The scorpion was a bend behind us, the hawk dancing in our slipstream.
“I couldn’t help but notice that none of our problems are on the list,” I said after, pausing for effect.
Of course, we could make the arguments, and we had before. The life of a freelancer is literally living check to check, and I was on day three without a prescription that only the next payday could afford. Also, that part about the sweating. Still, those were bumps of nothing in a long road of comfort, and while they may find themselves flung and sharpened as shouts in the kitchen, none of our family’s problems would prevent us from the next hill or the road that rose to meet it.
It had been such a misconception that triggered the journey. The festering from before had finally popped in a glorious explosion of privileged anger, a cocktail of hormones and too much screen time that led to words like weapons and a hand that was one. My wife went to work. The boys and I went for a walk.
We ran for the hills as a coping mechanism, when really, we should be clinging to them, begging the day to stay. It is always better to live out than look it. A good walk is a wonderful thing.
“I know,” said one.
The other just kind of grumbled.
Downhill is a trick. It shows up like a sudden oasis, offering the ease of decline, and yet, the footing is tender, the slide quick and flinty. Downhill is a fast roll toward routine.
The youngest took my hand to gain his balance by stealing mine. His thumb tracing a new spot upon it, amber as the scorpion, covered in dust and a boy’s attention.
“I am aging,” I said. “That’s just another badge to earn.”
The boys looked at one another and the hill growing in the background. We didn’t speak much after that, but the hawk kept time and we hummed a few bars. Our pace slowed considerably.
Some breaths felt deeper than others.
Photos by the author