“Is the otter awake Dada?” asked my four year old, sleepy eyed and soft as he strolled onto the little sand beach. He’d silently navigated fifty yards of forest between the tent and me, and materialized at the tree line as casual and unaffected as he would have in our kitchen back home.
“Good morning bud,” I replied, inviting him into my lap. “ I bet he is, but I haven’t seen him yet. Have you?”
“No, not yet. Are those the mud-ganders?” he asked settling in, warm and pliant against my chest.
“Mergansers… yep that’s Mama merganser out for breakfast with the kids.”
“I like the mergansers cause they do the cork thing.”
“The little babies swim down, down, down where um… where we can’t see them,” he explained, tucking Teddy under an arm and illustrating with his hand. “And then they… and then they go ‘pop’ like a cork and we get to see ‘em again. I like that.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said, following his gaze out to the ducklings and the mountains beyond.
We sat that way, watching for some minutes, but the mergansers were on a mission and not interested in performing the cork trick.
It feels like we’re usually on some mission or other too. We march from our front doors in search of the exceptional: the six-pound brown, the seven-point bull, the eight-month adventure. That’s where the stories are made. The allure of exploration is stamped in our genes; the glory of conquest self-evident; and the value of bigger, better and more coached into us from the beginning.
“Far better it is to dare mighty things…” said Teddy Roosevelt in his oft quoted Man In the Arena speech “[than to] live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” Far be it for me to argue with the 26th president. I’ve enjoyed a few humble victories myself, the memories of which set my heart to pounding and keep me up nights. I hope they always do.
But when I look back, I find my mind’s eye stops and rests less on ‘the moments’ and more on little moments – a harmless chill in the air, a groggy little boy in the lap, the promising whoosh of the white gas stove warming lake water for coffee.
The mergansers and the mountains seem to be doing something right in the gray twilight. I’m inclined to join them whenever I can, even if just from the sidelines.