Growing up, I thought seven was the luckiest age around. I woke up on my eight birthday in tears that that lucky age was gone forever (you can read about that in my birthday post here). Today was Cartwheel’s last day of being seven. She wore her characteristic smile all day, but as we cuddled on a covered porch swing in the evening hours each reading our books I found tears streaming down my face at the thought of her passing this milestone.
The day started with the early morning glow of the sunrise glinting off the Potomac River. Mama Bear and I climbed out of the tent onto the sandy beach where we had tucked into a secluded corner the night before. The kids were still asleep in their bunk bed hammocks, swaying slightly in the breeze. I packed up the tent while Mama Bear made coffee, then we sat at the water’s edge together to watch the sunrise. Eventually we heard the mischievous rumble of the kids behind us as they awoke to the new day. Mama Bear ambled back to start making breakfast while I lingered a while longer at the water’s edge.
A few minutes later I had a sleepy pink ball climb into my lap to cuddle. Cartwheel tucked her bare knees inside her hooded pink fleece (which simultaneously tamed her wild morning bird nest of a hairdo) and nestled the whole bundle into my lap. The sun rose higher over the water and began to warm our bodies as much as she warmed my heart. I pointed out some symbolism of seven: here she was at seven years old, and I exactly five times her age; in seven more years, when she would be fourteen, I would be exactly three times her age; fourteen years after that, I would be exactly twice her age; but at no other time would I be an integer multiple of her age. The power of seven.
I don’t usually find myself overcome with emotion. Nor do I often write about it (particularly in a public forum). I have a good friend who writes heartfelt letters to his twins each year as they grow older. He hides the letters away to be bound and presented to them as a gift on their eighteenth birthday, so that, when they are old enough to understand, they will have a permanent record of their father’s love for them at each stage of their maturation. What a wonderful gift. I wish that I could be so disciplined in capturing the ephemeral moments of parenthood’s true joys.
The kids scrambled around the beach, watching the fish awaken and surprise the early morning insects above the water. They watched the trucks cross the river over the distant bridges and counted the cars on the long train as it rumbled by behind us. They waded out to a warm rock in the sun to eat their breakfast together and share some sibling moments outside the earshot of their parents. After we packed up, we started our daily ritual of walking north. The trip began this morning on the wide flat path along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. As we walked, Cartwheel began to recite the first few lines of Walt Whitman’s song of the open road (starting the first line, as she always does, with a sort of hop-skip timed to land as she utters the opening word):
Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune.
Henceforth, I whimper no more, complain no more, need nothing.
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
As we climbed the hill away from the river, I found myself up ahead with Cartwheel while Mama Bear hung back with RobinHood. We made it up to the cliffs that overlooked the majestic Potomac (Thomas Jefferson once said of a similar view of the Potomac and Shenandoah coming together against the very mountain that filled our view, that it was a sight worth traveling across the Atlantic just to see). We watched the hawks soar close in front of us (they have followed us on our northward pilgrimage–a yearly migration for them), and I watched my daughter perched with confidence on the stone protrusions. I can’t believe how much she has grown over the two months of this trip.
We enjoyed our own private view for a while, then walked back to the trail to find Mama Bear snacking and RobinHood whittling a sculpture of a walrus with his new knife. We walked another easy ten miles along the ridge to Gathland State Park in Maryland (honoring the writer George Alfred Tennyson–pen name Gath). We browsed the museum displays then lounged in the grass as we waited for a shuttle that would take us into Harpers Ferry for a leisurely afternoon and an evening stay at a B&B. In town we visited a store with historic candy for sale (arranged chronologically, the store displayed for sale candies of the type eaten in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries). The kids saw thru-hiking friends walking by on the sidewalks and ran out to greet them. We grabbed some ice cream cones and walked up to Jefferson’s rock (the site of the aforementioned view). Then we headed back to the lovely B&B for some quite time
Cartwheel and I snuggled on the swinging bench as she listened to an audio book of Roald Dahl’s Matilda while I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (a book I only started because RobinHood informed me that it changed the whole way he looks at life). As I looked over at my daughter, I unexpectedly found tears streaming down my cheeks for her last day at being seven. I used to give Mama Bear a hard time for loving the kids more than she loved me. As my heart swelled, I realized that our love together had created these children, so of course our bond with them would be that much stronger.
Caught by surprise with this intense emotion, I wiped my cheeks and glanced back at the book to read the next passage about the protagonist: “his heart whispered, ‘Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That’s where I am, and that’s where your treasure is.'” I feel lucky to have shared all these experiences over the first two months of our journey. Tomorrow my little girl turns eight.