We present part 2 of Erin McKittrick’s 1st Year in the Woods
Luckily for Kamai, his father is a master bushwhacker. With Katmai protruding from his chest like a strange second head, Hig ducked beneath the alder boughs, turning his body to delicately brush by the devils club. He pulled salmonberry canes out of the way of Katmai’s face. One small scratch on the nose was all Katmai had to show for his afternoon in 4th of July Creek valley. I wished my arms and legs could say the same. In the long light of summer, even a day hike can get overly ambitious.
The rhythm of baby fussing was sped up by the heat, and we rested beneath the shade of spruce tree islands in the brush, entertaining Katmai with twigs. My packraft spun in circles on the glassy water as I paused to nurse the baby under the light of the full moon – huge and red from the haze of distant forest fires. At 2AM, we paddled home.
Last winter’s meager snowfall was followed by volcanic ash, then a warm sunny spring, melting the mountains back to bare ice and rock. Even amongst high peaks, the usual snow slopes were boulders and scree, bare rock fields with barely a hint of vegetation. Some of the dime-sized patches of moss might not have seen sun in years. Some of the rock might never have seen sun at all.
For a four-day expedition in the moutains above Tutka Bay, we counted. About 17 pounds for a diapered and dressed 6 month old. 1 pound for the wrap to carry him in. Another 4 pounds of extra clothes, diapers, and sleeping gear for Katmai. Altogether, it was 22 pounds of additional weight to add to the 65 pounds or so we were already wearing or carrying between the two of us.
We walked on ice. We walked past newborn lakes. We skated down slopes of sharp scree, past cliffs scratched by vanished ice and decorated with mountain goats. We threaded our way down steep and narrow routes with cliffs all around. Katmai watched and slept and giggled from his perch on our chests.
Katmai trusted us. He trusted us to keep the bushes out of his face. He trusted us not to drop him on the boulders or ice. He trusted us to keep him warm and fed and dry. Katmai spent his days snuggling his parents, watching the world go by, and occasionally being set down to play in it. Each place we stopped, he found new bushes to chew on, new rocks to investigate, and new games to play.
Katmai peered through the grass as his younger companions busied themselves with nursing and diaper changes. The air on the alpine ridge was crisp and cold, with a biting breeze. We ducked down in a pocket out of the wind, sitting on the bright red and yellow carpet of autumn tundra. Three babies, three moms, a dad, and a friend, out for a few hours hike on the trail above our yurt.
In the flurry of activity that was my book tour, I missed our backyard wanderings. I hiked through crowded airports with Katmai on my back, explaining to the TSA agent that the wrap was simply a long piece of cloth – posing no terrorist threat. We hiked the streets of Portland and Seattle, baby carrying oddities in a land of strollers. On a darkened stage, Hig gently bounced Katmai in the wrap on his chest, as we told stories from our year-long journey. Katmai smiled at the crowd and watched the pictures flash by – adventures from before he was born. Katmai fussed, sending his dad scurrying off to soothe him to sleep before returning to the presentation.
Katmai came with us on stage because he came with us everywhere – a smiling crawling appendage to our lives.
On Friday, we’ll have the conclusion of Erin’s story.
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