Mile 1050. Although not quite halfway through, we’re already celebrating.
After weeks of tentative planning, Seth and I are taking a mini vacation from the trail, as our parents have arrived to pamper us. Instead of braving 4th of July craziness in Tahoe, we stepped off at Ebbetts Pass on June 30, and are now eating, sleeping, swimming, and showering ourselves sane in Sonora for a few days.
Festivities commenced on Sunday with a first-class picnic supplied by our parents when they arrived to the Ebbetts Pass trail crossing around 9am. In various phone conversations, we had requested specific delicacies from my Mother; Seth was craving baked goods, and I was craving produce, and she didn’t disappoint.
Previous to the diaspora that set my family apart into North, South, East, and West US contingents (I moved to New York via college in New Hampshire, Seth moved to Alaska after a brief stint in Oregon, and my mother moved to Arizona and later New Mexico, leaving my father to hold down the fort in Montana), my family wasn’t particularly adept at family-type activities. We maintained very different schedules, never vacationed together apart from the occasional 16 hour drive to see grandparents in the Midwest, and, discounting considerable time spent in mother-daughter, father-son factions, spent little time all together. The exception to this rule, and the root of many prime family memories, is that we had some phenomenal meals together.
Few of these memorable meals included just the four of us. More often than not they extended to people like Elmer, our elderly neighbor who was my mother’s partner in crime and adored by all, as well as to my high school friends who my parents welcomed without question; they were family, too. My mother can belt out an exceptional spread for dinner, and my father made a habit of stirring up delicious sourdough pancakes every Sunday morning for the four of us as well as, inevitably, Elmer, the small army of girls who essentially resided at our home every weekend, and anyone else who happened to be wise to this tradition and felt like stopping by to grab a plate.
For me, these meals represented the perfect social scenario. Attendees had a very straightforward assignment; to eat, relax, and enjoy. For those of us who wanted to banter, we bantered. For those craving the company of others but preferring to merely observe, the occasional propulsion of fork from plate to mouth was enough. My father poked fun at my brother and my friends, my Mother fussed over everyone to make sure they had enough to eat and more, and Elmer and I bickered playfully on the side of the table where southpaws were segregated; everyone was at home.
At Ebbett’s Pass, tradition was proudly upheld. In our little corner of the world during the first reunion the four of us have had in four years, our parents delighted us with a luscious feast and, true to form, they brought enough to share.
Upon their arrival, hugs; always my mother’s first order of business, were dispensed, followed by food. Next to the trail, on a festive tablecloth decorated with colorful summer fruits, my mother laid out a feast of home-made cookies; thin ginger cookies in the shape of squirrels, bears and hedgehogs, hulking oatmeal cookies with walnuts and chocolate chips, and finally (my favorite), spritz cookies dappled with multicolored sprinkles. Next came an assortment of chips and dips, fruits and veggies, and teas and sodas on ice; my father shuttled them from the car to where my mother bustled around her appointed picnic area in the shade where she positioned everything just-so (the axiom that food tastes better when it is presented beautifully is inherited and ingrained from grandmothers on both sides of the family).
The final spread was lovely, which Seth and I both appreciated aloud before settling along one edge of the tablecloth and tucking in.
Shortly, more hikers appeared through the trees, eyes growing increasingly wider as they saw us beckon and took stock of the feast at hand. They settled themselves among us, and gratefully accepted plates heaped high with the homemade treasures of every hiker’s daydreams.
I was home again. I realized it somewhere in the middle of a conversation my mother was having with a new-found hiker friend, as across the tablecloth from me, my father knelt cutting a peach into perfect cereal-sized bites, combining them with cream and sugar to be distributed to hikers who watched in reverent awe as this as-of-yet untried delicacy was assembled before them. At least 20 people huddled about the tablecloth, and I basked in the air of festivity and familial fussiness and pampering (the good kind; the sort every hiker craves when he or she has been self-sufficient for two months) that had arrived along with my parents.
Our picnic extended into the early afternoon, none of us in a rush to stir, but eventually our hiker friends rallied and moved on and the remaining four of us gathered leftovers, scattered crumbs, and settled ourselves into our van bound for the luxuries of civilization awaiting in Sonora, along with some unprecedented, much-anticipated family time.