Sunday, September 12, 2010

Survival in the Wildnerness...or Something Very Similar

So last year at this time, I posted about Garner State Park. There are pictures in that post - none in this one, sorry. Anyway, this year was pretty much the same as last year....minus Schnitzel, of course. Also, we had a little adventure. (Sorry, Mark, I've no idea how many words I'll use to tell this....just scroll down and sigh).

Survival in the Wilderness.
I usually hike with the familia. But I really, really, really wanted to write, instead. And the beautiful, empty campground seemed like a lovely place to do it. So Jeff said he'd take the crew by himself, because he is good that way. I must admit to some minor misgivings, though. Don't get me wrong, Jeff is a total outdoorsman. He can handle himself in pretty much any kind of emergency - he's like that Man Vs. Nature guy. No problems there. So I had every bit of confidence that he could hollow out an ice cave, or collect water droplets, or propel down a cliff using his belt, or set a compound fracture or deliver a baby or handle any of those other minor inconveniences that might pop up unexpectedly on a 2-hour hike through the Texas Hill Country. My misgivings were more along the lines of his being able to keep track of everyone, because let's face it, he doesn't do it on a daily basis. And I do. And it ain't easy.

Jeff tends to make assumptions about the kids' strengths and limitations that are not necessarily correct - like assuming that the teenagers have brains. Or that the little people have reasoning skills and attention spans that will allow them to digest and maintain instructions. But hey, it is a short trail and they've hiked it, before, and I REALLY wanted to write. So, off they went, loaded down with water, snacks, and Ranger on a leash. It was Jeff, another adult friend, and 8 children (and I'm counting the 18 and 17-year-olds as children). The last thing I said to him as he walked off was, "Come back with all of them, please."

Yes, that was foreshadowing.

Our friend returned first, and she had her 7-year-old son and my Camille with her. "Hmm," she said. "The others aren't back yet?"

"Should they be?" I asked.

"Oh, no, not really," she said a little too casually. "I thought they might be ahead of us, that's all."

Now then, wouldn't she know if they were ahead of them or not? Did this statement send up a red flag? Maybe. I carry such constant anxiety around with me as the mother of five kids that it is hard to tell.

After about 40 minutes or so, Jeff comes walking up, totally drenched in sweat. I mean drenched. And totally alone.

"Did you find them?" our friend said. To which he replied, "They're not back yet?" And I was like WHAT? And it totally hit me. He was alone because he had LOST THE KIDS. Not one or two of them, either. The whole gang of them.

He looked at me, gasping for breath because he had just freaking run through the trail two more times, "Calm down, it's okay...."

I am known for a lot of things and maintaining any sense of calmness in an emergency is not one of those things. And I'm talking about when someone leaves the milk out. So the first order of business among Jeff and The Friend seemed to be calming me down. Which pissed me off because HELLO MY KIDS ARE MISSING. And my dog.

I'm not sure what all I said, but I know I was hysterical. Also? Blaming and finger-pointing like a mad woman. Which Jeff and The Friend expected because they know me and everything.

Now then, I mentioned that Jeff is a survivalist, right? Really tough guy, etc. One of his survival mechanisms is the ability to rationalize incredibly irrational things. Actually, he isn't that great at it. Because it never makes sense. But you've got to give him points for trying because try he does, and some amazing sh*t can come out of his mouth with a totally straight face as he explains things like how he lost six kids and one dog on a mountain. And I was having none of it.

"They're big, smart kids," he said. "They'll be fine until we can find them."

"Excuse me?" I said. "I know these kids personally. They are not smart and only some of them are big. Jasper is missing. Jasper is missing! Jasper is freaking-oh-my-god MISSING!!!!"

"He's fine. He was with Joel," he said.

Like THAT was supposed to make me feel better? Jeff actually stuttered a bit on that one.

"Joel recently set our place on fire!" I said. "I would have felt better had you said you'd last seen him with the dog!"

"The dog is with Jules," Jeff said. "Or at least he was." Well, there was almost half a brain right there. And I pictured my poor little Jules (age 12) having an Asperger's panic attack (which he did, according to his sister).

"Oh my god oh my god oh my've lost my baby. YOU FREAKING LOST MY BABY!! He's just a helpless newborn and he's with Joel of all people..."

"He's not a baby, he's like six-years-old or something really close to that. They'll be fine. Also, they're not lost." He pointed to the mountain to my right. "They're somewhere up there. They made it up the hard, steep part...I saw them that far..."

"So now they're just needing to come DOWN??? By themselves??? Is that what you're saying? They're supposed to come down that mountain by themselves?"

"It's a very small mountain. It's actually more of a large hill. And actually, I'm pretty sure I know where they are..." He pulled out a map and started blah blah blahing me with lines on it. "They're not on this trail - I know because I freaking ran it two more times - and I think they turned off here and will come out here." He pointed to a place on the map.

"You mean they'll come out there if they live. Do they have a map?"

"No. I have the map." Gulp.

"At least they took water."

"Jasper didn't want to carry his water, so I have that, too."

Thank goodness it was extremely cloudy and overcast.

"Helicopters! We need helicopters!!" I ran to get in the van because I apparently thought I knew where I could find a helicopter in a pinch. Jeff chased me down. He was calm. Which infuriated me for sure.

"Listen, babe," he said in the hopes that using a term of endearment would make me forgive him for losing my kids. "I'm going to walk the trail I'm pretty sure they're on..." you know, if they hadn't fallen to their deaths down the steep side of a cliff "and you just stay here."

Uh, don't think so. I abandoned my search for rescue helicopters in order to search for my 100% wool hiking socks because the last thing anyone needed at time like this was blisters. Just as I found them, I heard The Friend shout, "Here they are! I see them!'

The first thing I saw was Ellie smirking down the hill. She was already communicating with me telepathically and what she was saying was, "Oh my god mom, calm down." They were strolling, like they were just out for a walk in the park.

I didn't initially see Jasper. And this was my nightmare - because I really did figure that all the big kids would make it out - but that they would then begin the whole We Don't Have Jasper - You Have Jasper scene. Luckily, that didn't happen. Jasper, who is one of the sharper tools in my shed THANK GOD, took in his situation and stuck like glue to Joel, who to this day may or may not know that he has a brother named Jasper. "Hey Mom!" Jasper said. "Did you miss me? 'Cause I was LOST!!"

Then the Big Blame Game began, whereby Jeff started yelling at the big kids that he had told them this and that and they were supposed to wait at this rock to eat smoked oysters and why didn't they wait and what the hell were they thinking and they'd all agreed to that meetup spot and they had gotten him in Big which point the big kids said what they usually say when someone is talking to them, which was, "Sorry, are you talking to us?" Hence the whole communication problem as experienced on the mountain and Basically Everywhere Else.

Joel said the scariest part was that he kept thinking he heard helicopters. He said he personally planned to hide from them if I had dared to embarrass him in such a fashion. "I wasn't going to call out the helicopters..." I said sheepishly.

"Yes, you were," said Ellie.

Whatever. Everybody made it out safely. And over the course of the next couple of hours, each and every one of them came to me, in private of course, to say it wasn't his or her fault, and then tell me exactly who's fault it was. Jeff, as a survivalist, knew to take full blame, and he did, although he often amended it with several buts....However, I really do think he understands now why I am so freaking paranoid. It is actually hard work to keep five kids in sight and out of the emergency room. And I do it every day. In some ways, now that they're bigger, it is easier. In other ways, it is harder, because they think they are Way More Awesome than they actually are.

Apparently, what happened was simply Jeff and The Friend walking with two of the smaller guys, bringing up the rear, with the other kids asking if they could go on ahead and being granted permission to do so if they agreed to stop and wait at White Rock, where they'd planned to stop for a snack. And Jasper begged and begged to go up ahead, too, and Jeff said okay and WHY WHY WHY is beyond me but I'm past all that. And apparently, they did stop at White Rock, or they said, maybe it was Painted Rock, because both of those spots are on the trail....they don't pay attention to details, but they waited something like 45 or 10 minutes at what may or may not have been the appropriate rock before becoming bored and deciding to continue on without a map through various forks in the trail.

At a certain point they realized they were probably lost. Jules became quite frantic as in frantic like possibly they'd left Garner State Park entirely and were now on The Island and really and truly LOST in another dimension with only a can of smoked oysters and some crackers. Fourteen-year-old Harlan (not mine) tried to calm him down by reminding him that they were fine because they were with an adult. At which point it dawned on Ellie that he meant her because she just turned 18 and can now vote. She responded by laughing, which probably didn't fill Jules (or Harlan) with confidence.

Anyway, the most worried person was me, and I only worried for a few minutes because Jeff and The Friend made a secret pact on the mountain that I should Know Nothing. How they got Camille to keep her mouth shut is beyond me, but if the kid shows up with a new pair of shoes next week I'll understand why. And believe it or not, I'm grateful that they decided this. I hate to worry - it is the worst thing in the world for me. Poor Jules worried less intensely but for a longer period of time, and I am sick about it. The rest of them? We were fine. We knew which side the campground was on. We could see the river winding below. We knew we had to come down one trail or the other to get there... And they were right, of course. It really was Jasper and Jules I was most worried about - one physically and the other emotionally.

Later that day we drove to the beautiful Frio River to swim. I was just about to comment on a steep area that was marked off with Red Warning Signs...."THIS AREA CLOSED DUE TO FREQUENT ROCK SLIDES...STAY AWAY" when Ellie casually says, "Oh, that's where we came out. Right there." She pointed to a rock slide that they had mistaken for a trail. Sigh.

Later, as we sat around the campfire, I was still kind of mad and Jeff was still kind of on edge but we were trying to relax and I looked over at him, laughed, and said, "Dude, you left your baby. Again." Because that is another story. And I'm going to tell it now because it is slightly relevant and somewhat entertaining.

We were dropping Ellie off at a theater to watch a friend perform in a musical. Jasper was like 18-months-old and crying in his carseat. Jeff got him out of the carseat to give him a little break and carried him as he walked Ellie into the theater. The other kids and I waited in the car. Jeff came back out empty-handed. Where is the freaking baby? I wondered. I watched Jeff cross the street, walk to the car, open the door, take one look at my face, slam the car door, walk back across the street and re-enter the theater. Ellie's friend, Sarah, said to him, "Dude, you left your baby."

Jeff re-emerged from the theater carrying Jasper, walked back across the street and to the car, opened the door, put the baby in his carseat, and drove off insisting that he hadn't accidentally left the baby in the theater.

" intentionally left him in the theater?"


Like until this day.

So that's what I'm dealing with here.

Dude, you left your baby, has since become an awesome catchphrase. In fact, feel free to use it any time you leave your baby in a theater or on top of a mountain. It's not copyrighted.

Well, there were actually more stories from the trip - maybe I'll share them next time...but then again, I really should get back to some homeschooling topics so maybe I'll share about our experiences in creating a transcript and portfolio for Ellie. Either way, I need to stop now before I break one of my own world's longest blog post records.


  1. Thanks so much for not naming me by name, although slipping my son's name in there kind of gave it away :) Oh, and thanks for not laying any of the blame at my feet, even though I am still feeling guilty about this whole thing. especially the deception part, even though you understand why I did it. (Jeff did not put me up to that--it was totally my idea. And, I did not tell Camille anything--she just carries the same trait as the rest of your kids of not listening to adults talking--so she had no idea what I had told you. She probably thought I had given you the whole "Jasper is lost on the mountain story" So, no asking your kid to lie, at least I did not cross THAT line!

  2. Oh. Oh gosh. Ack.

    I guess I'm speechless. And very glad it ended well.

  3. Susan, Jeff also says there was no secret pact on the mountain. He says he told you, "Tell her whatever you want but YOU KNOW HOW SHE IS."

  4. I told you, it was totally Dad's fault! You failed to mention here that Dad only thought it necessary to tell ONE of us to wait at Painted Rock. That certain person being JULES for heaven's sake, who conveniently forgot to tell the rest of us this important piece of information because of his freaking PANIC ATTACK that I had to deal with. If Dad had told me (me being an adult and all) none of this would have happened.
    Guys can't communicate. It's a fact.

  5. Dude, you threw your dad under the bus! And he is sitting here defending himself (you know how he refuses to leave a comment) saying that he did tell you and nobody listens to him and even if he didn't but he did then why wouldn't you just freaking stop when you didn't know where to go....he's still talking.

  6. Oh my goodness! I'm laughing at the family blame-game (extending even into the comments!), but glad, glad, glad it all worked out so well in the end.

  7. Listen, it's not that your Posts are long and wordy, it's just that reading is not my stong point. Plus I have a short attention span, and, well, I'm kind of lazy. You forgot to thank me at the end of it for reading the whole thing.
    Okay, that was too funny and once again, you had me freaking out over losing kids. I just kept thinking of my own lost up there on that moutain. On top of that, I was getting really pissed at Jeff because I have a Jeff(named Fred) who would do the same thing. In fact, he did leave John in the house one time when we were going away. He said, "Oh, I thought you had him".
    Carol, I love the way that you write. I have a feeling that you talk the same way and I think the better Blogs are just like this.
    Your Friend, who made it though the whole thing, m.
    p.s. I'm too lazy to review my own Comment for typos. Sorry if there are any. m.

  8. Mark, it is also that my posts are long and wordy :). I like the way you write, too.

  9. Glad you were reunited with your entire familia and no one was left on the mountain. That would not have been good for Jeff.

    Did your dad go with you?

  10. I feel like I should be related in order to post here . . . But since I'm not and since I'm a former Hill Country hiker and since I'm the mom of four kids, I can empathize with you. Freaks me out still, even though they're grown up. I always have to know where they are.

  11. Oh no, Liar - your comments are welcome. I'm actually only related to Ellie :).

  12. OK, so I came home from London once and dh did not have our daughter with him.

    Me, trying to be casual, "so, where is Lily?"

    Him, not even trying to apologize; "I had to work, so she is with Isabelle."

    "But Isabelle works too!"

    We pull up to their house and I race inside to find Isabelle's completely absent-minded husband sitting at the kitchen table working on some scientific problem with Lily playing nearby.

    What can I say, when it comes to daddy being in charge, I guess guardian angels work double-shifts.

    Yeah, and what about taking a day off or calling one of HIS friends? We had that conversation as well.

    Glad your really well-told tale ended as well as mine! Try a little Rescue Remedy at night to calm your dreams for the next few weeks, you should be fine.

  13. I just found your blog by a link someone gave at MDC and I have to say that is one of the funniest, honest, and engaging posts I've ever read on an unschooling blog. I love it and the way you write. Off to explore the rest of your posts!

  14. This is all SO hilarious. I am the oldest of five homeschooled children and am now homeschooling my own five children. I can SO relate to this whole scenario in so many ways. Thanks for sharing this well-told true tale!