The Mom Stop: Nature nurtures spirit of traveler

I climbed over giant driftwood logs on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula recently, stepping from one log to the next, trying to ensure that my footing was sound and that I didn’t lose my balance as I meandered my way to the rocky shore.

I had my reservations about the trip.

I flew to Seattle that week for a conference for work. My husband held down the fort at home, juggling soccer practices, karate lessons and picking up our three young kids from school and daycare each day. Our normal schedule is carefully choreographed and often takes the both of us — sometimes with help from the babysitter — to make sure that things keep running smoothly.

I honestly wasn’t sure my five-day absence would go over too well.

But I love to travel. And since I would be in Seattle for a work trip anyway, I decided to take an extra day to see part of the Pacific Northwest, which has long been on my “bucket list.” And so, I rented a car and set out on a ferry from the Seattle shoreline and headed toward Olympic National Park.

On the positive side, I got to listen to an entire audiobook that I had meant to start for months. For the first time in forever, I didn’t have to worry about regular potty stops once an hour, or charging iPads in the car, or making sure everyone had snacks. I didn’t have to raise my voice to tell the kids to stop arguing or stick my arm backward toward the back seat to split up any bickering children — because no one was there. In a life full of noise, quiet can seem strange.

It was just me, my suitcase, and hours on the road with no real plan but to explore. It felt so foreign. For the first few days in Seattle, I was so busy with work I barely had time to FaceTime my children back home. With the time difference, they were at school already when I woke up. When I was done with each day’s conference sessions, our youngest was already in bed.

But it wasn’t until I was driving along stretches of forested coastland lined with unfamiliar conifers that I really started to miss home. When it started to snow — and stick in some areas — I questioned the idea of heading out to the wilderness on my own. I could get into a car wreck on unfamiliar terrain, I thought. Or, while hiking in Olympic’s temperate rainforest, I could get attacked by a mountain lion or a bear, I worried. Or, given my luck and my location — Bigfoot.

I couldn’t help but ask a receptionist at the Lake Quinault National Park Lodge if it was safe for me to hike out on my own. Even when he said it would be OK, I kept my cellphone on hand in case I ran across any large animals on the way, like that would do any good.

I thought about these things as I drove along Washington’s coast when I saw signs for Ruby Beach and decided to stop. It was a short hike down to the beach through muddy, forested terrain. But as the tree branches cleared, the dark shadows of rock formations out in the water appeared. On the beach was a field of driftwood logs and smooth, weathered stones. And although there were other tourists there, each making their way over the logs to the water, the place had a way of making me feel like I was there all alone.

As the sun peeked out behind the clouds and dipped down toward the Pacific, I couldn’t help but feel grateful. The moment reminded me of another moment years earlier when I hiked along a fjord in Norway at age 19. At that time I was also alone and I remember spotting the sun peek through a storm over the mountains, and felt overwhelmingly grateful then, too.

It was a semi-religious experience for me.

Sometimes, as parents, it’s easy to get sucked up into the vortex of our lives — ballgames and ballet practice, dishes to be washed or laundry to be done. But standing there on that beach, watching the waves crash up against the rock formations, it was a stark reminder of the beauty of the outside world. And that sometimes, it’s worth taking a moment for ourselves. Sometimes, you need to take a moment to notice the beauty of life, and to be thankful for it.

— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.

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