“Why do the dumpsters have locks on it?” Big A asked, as I threw our sandwich wrappers and wet wipes away.
It was our last full day in Colorado. Only a few months before, on the eve of my 32nd birthday, Mr. D and I were misty-eyed in an Austin Imax, following a documentary on the 100-year anniversary of the natural parks. “The greatest natural wonders belong to no one,” Robert Redford’s voice narrated. “They belong to all.” As we left the theater, I admitted how choked with emotion I felt at the sight of our purple mountain majesties. “I teared up, too,” my husband admitted. “We should do more stuff outdoors.”
Then we came home. Work piled on. Swim lessons and gymnastics and drop-offs and pick-ups and life in general resumed its unrelenting, unapologetic pace. I fantasized daily about quitting my job, wondering if my boss would continue to take credit for my work, or if she would, instead, give me the one thing I had asked for and unquestionably earned. But she didn’t acknowledge my question, let alone provide an answer, and I found myself averaging three hours of sleep on a good night. About a month after my suicide joke fell flat in a staff meeting and probably a week before my inevitable mental break down, Mr. D bought impromptu tickets to Denver. “It will be good for us,” he said. “It will be good for you.”
It was perfect. It was exactly what the doctor ordered, right down to the weed. The girls, Mr. D and I hiked mountains and stepped off the beaten path to climb rocks and explore nature on our own. By the time we polished the last of our PB&Js at a picnic table in Rocky Mountain National Park, I decided I could very happily relocate to the West. We’d just need to get used to the whole snakes and bears thing.
“That’s why you’re supposed to lock the dumpsters,” I explained to Big A. “So the bears can’t get in.”
“Bears?” Little A asked in her sweet whisky voice. “Will they hurt us?”
“Um… well… hopefully we won’t see any. But sometimes bears can hurt people. Especially if it’s a mama bear who wants to protect her babies.”
Little A lost interest in the bears, and we proceeded to circle around a spectacular lake, its crystal clear water reflecting the towering mountain ranges from beyond. We climbed more rocks, walked across logs and even hopped over stones to explore the other side of a babbling brook. As we headed back to the car, Little A began to tell us a story about “a waterskunk family,” prattling on in her usual long-winded way, with mundane details and indecipherable ones all piling together as my interest and attention drifted elsewhere–to the trash collected in our car, to the bathroom stops we all needed to make before we left, to the flight we had to catch tomorrow. Her sweet whisky voice droned on… and on… until finally, in that same casual tone, Little A said, “And then a man came, and he tried to hurt the babies, so the the mama waterskunk killed the man.” Mr. D and I both stared at each other blankly. “Kill the man?” I mouthed to him, as he laughed and said, “Well, that took an unexpected turn.”
We drove to another lake and admired a herd of moose crossing the road. That night, we all went to bed early, and I slept sound and deep and long.