Family tectonics

Posted: August 9, 2006 in Uncategorized

When I was a kid, still living in Oregon before we moved to Hawaii, every other year or so all the members of my dad’s side of the family would pack up their respective families and converge on Crescent Lake up in the Cascades to camp for a week. This had been a long-standing tradition with my dad and his parents and siblings when they were all young, and for a span of time, after everyone had kids of their own who were now big enough to not require sleepless nights and non-stop attention, the tradition was revitalized. The most far-flung anyone had gone from Oregon was Colorado, so the opportunity to combine a family reunion, a little “character building” for the kids, and get a little vacation time was both reasonable and welcome. On these trips, the parents would sun on the lakeshore and relax, while my cousins and I ran amok, swimming, catching tiny frogs by the water, and generally getting filthier and filthier until we were thrown back in the water and started the processes all over again. We went on epic hikes, weathered heavy summer thunderstorms, and spent long evenings around the central fire pit catching up as a family.

After I turned ten or so, families began moving to farther-flung parts of the country, kids started spending their summers elsewhere, and the tradition was put away again. For the next decade or so, cousins grew up and went to college, did stints in the military, moved away, and while some moved to the same town, the task of trying to get everyone in the same place had become colossally difficult. During this time I had moved back to Oregon, but the gradual family exodus had left me as the only one in the state, and for a number of years I only very occasionally saw another family member. More recently, through some mix of personal desire and circumstance, the family seems to be converging again, and this past week in particular has been something of fragments of family tradition re-emerging.

Tuesday began a two-day trip for my dad and I to summit South Sister, a first for both of us, and my first major Cascade summit. Driving out from Eugene, we drove the same road we’d driven those years ago past Crescent Lake, the last place he and I had gone camping together. We talked about the mountains and trips past and to come. Tuesday afternoon we found our campsite and went for a 10-mile warmup hike along part of the PCT and the base of the peak we were going to climb the next day, the sights, sounds, and smells of the Oregon alpine forests and meadows in the summer as always heady and inviting. The mosquitos were not so hospitable. After a quick trip into Bend for dinner and some bug spray, we undoubtably pissed off the people sleeping at the next site talking extensively about the state of the world over the fire then slept like logs.

The next day was the long climb; six miles of nearly a vertical mile, ending at 10,400 feet. The last mile was painfully slow, stopping every thirty feet or so to catch our breath as we slogged up the steep cinder slope. It took us an hour to cover a half-mile ridge, which we dubbed “Hell’s Half Mile”. The view from the summit however was anything but hellish. Luckily the forest fire that had been burning near Black Butte had been brought under much better control than the past few days, and the brown pall of smoke only obscured part of the scenery. After lunch as we partially slid back down the face, we kept looking back at the trail we had toiled up and boggled that we had been so adament about torturing ourselves on such an unforgiving climb.

Our first short and remarkably disaster-free trip completed, we took a day to recoup in town before our second trip, heading to Colorado for my cousin Idy’s wedding. Given my dad’s family’s penchant for highly competitive and quotable get-togethers, I actually didn’t mind the prospect of having to wear my suit to an outdoor wedding in the midwest in August. Despite staying up all night at the bar the night before, I wound up staying out drinking with my soon-to-be cousin-in-law and his groomsmen, which I honestly felt was my duty as a family member to make sure my cousin wasn’t marrying someone who made a complete ass of themselves or made out with every woman in sight when he got a little sauced. Around midnight and 40 hours without sleep I parted from the group and headed back to the hotel, satisfied Idy was at the least marrying a guy who could handle his liquor.

The wedding itself the next day was expectedly huge, as my uncle had pulled out all the stops, to the point that one of the guests asked if their back yard was the local country club. Despite the two open bars and mingling of two families, at least one of which not known for its verbal self-restraint, the whole thing went smoothly and at times very entertainingly. Between the bride’s naturopath showing up in full biker gear and sporting a sidearm, my aunt’s sister the cop showing up and arresting the groom on the dance floor, a groomsman getting more hammered than I’ve seen ANYONE and hitting on every woman from 14 to 90, my underage second cousin chugging a full beer on the dancefloor to the cheers of everyone, and finally getting the whole thing shut down by the cops on a noise complaint, I was by no means disappointed.

While it may not happen with any regularity, and in fact perhaps even just once more, I hope to get everyone back to Crescent Lake for one of those long summer weeks. To be sure, not everyone will be camping this time around, if at all, but the whole purpose won’t be for the sake of nostalgia. Those trips were never about the past. They were always about spending a week reminding us what was important.

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