We’re on our own for awhile and plan to make a grand circle of the northwest. Going north into Wyoming we hit ranch country, all cowboys, horses, boots, saddles and ten-gallon hats. Scooter’s been waiting for this. Heading into the Wind River Mountains on a bumpy dirt road, we go back in time to beautiful Big Sandy Lodge. Built at the turn of the 30’s, it hasn’t changed a bit and is so remote it has no electricity or phone service. Just as we pull in a mother and baby antelope leisurely cross the road in front of us. The kids want to stay here. Me, too. It’s heavenly to park the van and sleep in real beds. But we’re on a roll and more than one night is too long, just the way Daddy likes it. After eating with ‘real’ cowboys in Pinedale, we’re excited to be heading for Yellowstone National Park, the epitome of U.S. family summer vacations.
So much riding cramped in the van is hard on all of us. Little fights break out. Scooter and Nicole are free to roam in the back of the van with a box of their favorite toys and some art supplies. Their attention is diverted from each other for awhile until they both reach for the same color pencil. Older big brother wins, Nicole whines “I had it first,” and a tug-of-war ensues. The grin of victory is quickly wiped off Scooter’s face as the strength of the weapon’s release propels the sharpened pencil into his mouth. “Aaiiyy!” he screams. Ray swerves the car to the side of the road. I fall all over trying to grab Scooter, thanking god already that the it’s not sticking out of his eye. The van screeches to a halt amidst Scooter’s cries, Nicole’s sobs, Daddy’s bellowing “Godamit!”
I cradle his head between my hands, but there’s too much blood, “Oh my god, Spit!” Assessing the damage it’s not as bad as I thought. In the roof of his mouth is a hole the exact size and shape of a pencil eraser. Luckily there aren’t many blood vessels or pain receptors in that area. I hold him close as he calms down. “You’re a very brave boy,” I smile, “but that was pretty stupid.” I realize it’s pretty stupid of us for allowing the kids deadly sharp weapons in the back of the car, and stupid of the car manufacturers for not having seat belts like in airplanes. Disaster averted one more time; we’re back on the road in a much more subdued and contemplative state of mind.
Our dreams never mirror the reality, but we have to start somewhere. I keep returning to the miracle of Ray quitting his conservative job as an investment counselor to follow a counterculture life. The defining issue of finding the best school for Scooter becomes interwoven with “The Trip”, as in “I can’t believe we’re on the Trip!” But it’s only for the summer or until we reach our primary goal. Are we enhancing or damaging our family dynamics by living like vagabonds at a time when our children need more stability in their young lives? Most of the people we know and meet are who dropping out, becoming flower children and raising the flag for peace are younger than we are and single. But“We are here now!” I’ll not regret this decision, no matter if the results diverge wildly from what we expect.