By David Anderson
Our grandsons, ages six and three, were reviewing the day with grandma. What did they like best? Tackling each other on the beach at Pt. Defiance (pile on grandpa without warning)? Building a ship and setting it out to sea (piece of bark with a vertical stick for a seaweed sail, bombing it into oblivion with rocks along the shore)? Constructing a teeter-totter with our choice of logs and then hanging on for dear life, two boys on one end grandpa on the other? Going to McDonald’s for lunch? Getting tabs on the car so we wouldn’t get a ticket (way past due) so we could go on this adventure?
One thing’s for sure. It wasn’t the go-cart track. Our grandsons are too short, too small, and too young. “These things are pretty fast,” the operator had said, and with a look like ‘what are you thinking?’ he craned his neck to look under the ticket counter to locate the three-year old who was standing on his tiptoes.
I was thinking we’d find adventure.
Adventure was to find us.
“Let us remember,” writes John Eldredge in his book “The Way of the Wild Heart,” that “we are raising boys who are by their very nature created for daring adventures and battles and wild places and unchartered territory. Boyhood is a time of exploration and wonder, and to be a boy is to be an explorer.”
In answer to grandma’s end-of-the-day question of the boy’s favorite memory, the older said “Climbing the cliff!” Whereupon the three-year old piped up, “Me too!”
I had seen the forbidding wall but kind of hoped the boys would not. Ranking somewhere between sheer death-defying precipice (don’t tell their mother) and gentle slope (no boy is attracted to a gentle slope), rising to dizzying heights above the beach at Pt. Defiance is what I would call an attractive nuisance.
The boys were attracted.
“Grandpa! Can we climb that?”
“That,” as it turns out, was to me – me who fears climbing the ladder to clean the gutters – a bit of a fearful prospect. “That” while admittedly not a cliff, neither was it a hill. The only redeemable factor that made the cliff-type-hill accessible was a ladder, a ladder constructed by the erosive power of nature: exposed, graspable tree-roots that formed handholds at just the right intervals, for the most part, for boys ages three through six.
A suggestion to park rangers: there should be a sign at the base that warns the cliff is not suitable for grandpas. Or at least something about ‘your own risk’ and all that.
Root after tree root, planning our ascent (at least I was planning, the boys were simply scrambling) we were nearing the summit with the six-year-old leading, younger brother following and me somewhat behind. That’s when the leader, clambering over the last bit of slipperiness, stood triumphantly and shouted back, “Don’t look down grandpa.”
I was doing fine, well, pretty fine, up until then.
No, we were not roped up.
When I finally reached the boys they, having patiently waited having themselves already enjoyed the view, were already ready to move on to other discoveries. I, on the other hand, wanted to look across to Vashon Island, and Alaska, the Yukon Peninsula even – none of which you could see even if they had been there. A late-in-the-afternoon-haze-
That was one consolation. Those jackets. If we didn’t make it out of there before dark – I was becoming worried of the warning “Park closes one-half hour after sunset” – at least our rescuers would be looking for the three that all looked alike.
That night (we did make it needless to say – I am writing this after all), as the boys crawled into their PJ’s and snuggled into the blankets on the floor in front of our fireplace – they were spending the weekend with us – there was no fog obscuring their memory of the guy’s-only-adventures recounted to grandma.
Conquering the cliff.
To hear them tell it, it wasn’t a big deal. Post-traumatic bravado I think it’s called.
Two boys and grandpa, grasping tree roots, hand-over-hand pulling themselves under, over and ever upward. And when we got to the bottom (what goes up must come down – thankfully) they looked back up from where they’d been and said,
“We did that.”
Courage and bravery, says Eldredge, “must be cultivated in a boy, for they will be called upon in every stage of his life.”
Are you involved in a boy’s life? Girls I suppose fit in there somewhere too. Come to the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association meeting the night of Feb.7, 6:30 P.M., 14916 Washington Ave. SW., where this whole matter of being a mentor, a guide, and a champion to youth will be addressed by a panel of folks who’ve been there done that: climbed the cliff, instilling courage along the way.