Opinion: Outside In

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Making Summer Memories

By David Weinstein

Summertime is magical. A fact that is hard to deny even for someone like myself who has been trending toward the grumpier side. Sure, the other seasons have their qualities, but none quite like summer. The days are longer, the weather more conducive, and there’s the sweetness of that first taste of “real” watermelon. It is the Sabbath of seasons, and it would just be downright impious if we didn’t lay down our labors, at least for a while, and enjoy the bounties providence has provided.

This is a particularly significant summer for my family. COVID-19 is being steadily beaten back, and our oldest daughter, her Navy doctor husband, and our two grandkids have just returned from a two-year stint in Japan. The littlest guy was just eight months old when they left. In the past, we would have marked this by renting a place by the beach to celebrate, but this year we decide to give you Lagunans a break and mark our good fortune with a vacation far from the madding crowd—a pack trip into the Eastern Sierras. What could possibly go wrong?

Mules will pack our gear six miles up McGee Creek into the backcountry where we will bivouac for the week. My youngest daughter makes all the arrangements. She is an excellent “arranger,” and her list-making skills far eclipse mine. Her planning is only slightly less comprehensive than JPL’s for the Rover landing on Mars.

We will require six mules for our Teddy Roosevelt-type foray, and another mule for me to ride up on. This is because, now in my seventies, I have become subject to equipment failures, and for some unknown reason my left foot decided to malfunction the week before our scheduled departure. This becomes a point of contention with the mule packer because, unbeknownst to us tinhorns, there are weight and density considerations in the load carrying capacity of a mule. My BMI (Body Mass Index) exceeds these limits. He mentions something about these being pack animals and not draft horses. I think my daughter bribes him, so the issue is laid to rest. The only casualty being my dignity, which seems to be under constant assault lately.

With mules loaded, we head up McGee Creek Valley surrounded by an abundance of wildflowers in bloom and all nature’s glory. Me on my mule and the rest of the family on foot with day packs. My son-in-law mentions something about “bluebird skies.” It is the last time on the trip he is allowed to use these two words together. About a mile in, and out of sight of the pack station, clouds begin to roll in. Lightning accompanies rain, and then it starts to hail. Our packtrain heads to a copse of trees for shelter. The group on foot heads to the creek and lower ground.

The next time we will see each other is five hours later at the campsite. In the meantime, each group is wondering if the other has abandoned the expedition. When we do reconnect, it is cause for great celebration. Over the next six days, we hike, fish, and talk idly. The brave ones swim in the chilly alpine waters. The grandsons spend their time turning every found object into a dangerous weapon. They beat each other with sticks all the while yelling that line from The Princess Bride, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” They launch each other from the hammock only feet away from a sheer rocky cliff. They disappear for hours, returning with obsidian shards and unfinished arrowheads. We all talk late into the night. The time passes quickly but I think we make indelible memories. Memories that I hope will last well past my time.

Sitting out under the bright “Comanche” moon in the Sierra skies, I contemplate how we will return home soon. How we will probably spend some time at the beach, endure the crowds and complain about the traffic and the difficulty finding a parking spot. But I resolve to be a little more tolerant of my fellow travelers, knowing that all everyone is trying to do is make their own summer memories.

David is a resident of Newport Beach, and he and his steadfast partner are thrilled to have their whole family back in Southern California.

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