Stories from the journey of fatherhood & brotherhood

Backpacking With Grace

Nov 07, 2019

We hiked for 10 yards and were already stopping. My daughter’s purple and pink tennis shoes veered off the trail to pick some fiery orange colored Indian Paintbrush. With eyes proud she handed me the tangy smelling flower to hold while we resumed up the trail. Two minutes later we stopped again, this time to pick some undersized Mountain Daisies. Not twenty yards down later bluebells the color of a baby boy’s nursery caught her eye. Her wildflower bouquet was growing at the same rate as my frustration. 

Two years before I took her older sister on an overnight backpacking trip as a way to mark and celebrate her turning five. Now it was her turn. For two years she’d anticipated this adventure that had become a mini rites of passage. The moment was here and I was feeling more like a florist’s personal assistant than a grizzled man of the wilderness. 

A few days before the trip a good friend and experienced backpacker asked how long the hike was,

“Three miles each way,” I responded with a little too much pride. 

Long pause….

“Oh, that’s ambitious,” he responded with as much restraint as possible. 

His words throbbed like a splinter under a fingernail as I my eyes bounced between my watch, the trailhead that was still in view behind us, and the storm clouds brewing in the distance. 

The record breaking amount of late-spring snow had created a bumper crop of wildflowers that was too much for my daughter to resist. I thought their appeal would soon fade. Eventually she’d have all the different flowers picked and there would be no reason to add to it. But her wonder only grew. As if the color and beauty of each flower only sharpened her noticing and enjoyment of her surroundings. 

Eventually we settled into a rhythm. The flower picking stops gave her needed time to rest and invited me into enjoyment rather than efficiency. I remembered complaining is a foe easiest fought with sugar, so jelly beans were eaten each time we crossed a stream. We weathered a brief hailstorm and it appeared we'd make it to our campsite relatively unscathed. 

All that was needed was to cross an eight foot shallow creek. There were no log bridges so I picked my daughter up on the front of my chest, realizing that priority #1 was to keep her warm and dry. I began hopping between across rocks, but the 40 pound backpack and 40 pound nervous daughter in the front seemed to compromise my agility, and judgement. I slipped on a wet rock and we both fell into the snow fed creek. It’s hard to exaggerate the volume and displeasure of my daughter’s response. Needless to say an hour later her mood was much improved thanks to dry clothes and a quantity of jelly beans that shall remain undisclosed. 

As I prepared for our trip, I thought the goal was to get quality time together and affirm my daughter. To that end I gave her a braided paracord bracelet as a reminder that she can do hard things, and gave her words of blessing and a bouquet on the last morning. That trip may be the highlight of my relationship so far with her. 

I thought she would be the only person affirmed. Throughout the trip she said,

“Daddy, this backpacking trip is so fun.” 
“Come on dad, let’s go do this.”
“I love you daddy.” 

For some reason I didn’t dismiss the words as quickly dissolving flattery. I had ears to hear them, to hear past the literal words. Her words of gratitude, invitation, and love held something I usually miss: approval and delight. Because what five year old can directly offer the weight and goodness of approval. They must tell the truth, but as Emily Dickinson wisely says, they “must tell it slant.” 

What a kind and generous Grace was with me that day. To offer the approval I long for in words I usually look past. 

There is power and life present when affirmation and approval is offered intentionally and directly. But where may it be offered to you “slant,” in unexpected places? 

Jesse French
Restoration Project Chief of Next Steps



Outdoor experiences for dads to bond with their kids