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.
Happiest of birthdays, Cartwheel! Lovely, tribute, Dad.
This is lovely. Next month my little girl turns 24, but I still feel the same way.
Printing today to mail a hard copy of your blog to Cartwheel and Robinhood’s great grandmother….
Happy birthday dearest Cartwheel!
Happy Birthday, Maddy, aka Cartwheel. We wish we could be with you on your birthday, but circumstances intervened. Next year, for sure!
Gosh, you have a way with words, Dave. I’m sitting here in Maine tearing up. Much love to the whole family and especially to Cartwheel on her birthday!
Finn says, “Robinhood – I like to turn my hammock around like that too!” ha ha
Powerful moments like this remind me how blessed I am to be a dad. Thanks for inviting us into your journey as a dad, thru-hiking the trail!
what an incredible family journey! I’m so envious. One day I will be in a situation to hike on the AT. unfortunately it wont be with my wife, son and daughter as they dont share the same desire to really connect with nature. Blessings on your continued journey making family memories!
Happy Birthday 🎂 Maddy! Alanna wanted to sing to you, but I had to explain that you can’t sing into a blog comment box. We all hope you had a happy day.
Karla, Reeves, and Alanna
Happy birthday, Cartwheel! Sonja’s remembering her last day of being seven as I read this post to her and as my eyes nearly welled up to think of her turning nine someday soon….
I miss my girls when they were young but we sure did have fun back them. But those times have only strengthened our bond and I Love them all the more. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts… And Happy Birthday Cartwheel !!!
Happy Birthday Cartwheel! Looks like you all had a fabulous day. And such a moving tribute…beautiful. It has been a joy following your journey on the trail. Love those cute bunk-hammocks!
Very moving…a great read into a family’s love, and the journey you are forging together. From 7 to a hop-skip to 8…Happy Birthday, Cartwheel!
What a beautiful post. Happy birthday, Cartwheel. I envy you this journey.
Happy birthday Cartwheel!!! Nathan, Maki, Maya and Toma miss you very much but we hope you continue to enjoy your journey!
Moving beyond words.
Happy Happy Birthday Cartwheel
how incredibly beautiful David. Happy birthday Cartwheel
Beautiful post. Love following your adventures. Peace.
What a great moment you’ve captured. Thanks for sharing. BTW, I spoke with my dad (aka Bugman) last night and he said he was out doing Trail Magic and met a family with two kids–one of which was celebrating her 8th birthday. Small world! Hope you guys are having fun and staying healthy. -Salsa (aka Loderunner GA>ME 2003)
It really is a small world. Back when we were playing ultimate with you (and swimming in your pool), I don’t think we ever made the thru-hiking connection (Emily and I went southbound in ’02 as Ewo and Zipper). I was chatting with your dad about the adventures your sister had in the snow while hiking out west last year. At the time that was all unfolding, I had no idea it was your sister; glad that all worked out as well as it did. Thanks for writing, and I hope we see you and your family soon!
On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, A Family Adventure of the 2,185 mile hike from Georgia to Maine – 2014 wrote:
This is such a beautiful tribute to your birthday girl! It almost brought me to tears!
Not too many of your posts bring tears to my eyes, but you got me with this one. Happy birthday Cartwheel!! Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. – Pidge
Happy Belated birthday to Maddy! xo, Rem and Jill and Liam
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