On the wilderness with children
"I do not subscribe to the notion that wildness is reserved for adult male adventurers who are defined by their escape from the constraints of home and family. Instead, I have come to view childhood as a valuable repository of wildness from which we grown-ups might derive insight and draw inspiration. As the father of daughters, I am also convinced that our association of wilderness and wildness with masculinity is not only archaic but profoundly misinformed from the start. And I am troubled that the so-called retreat narrative—a stylized way of telling the wild that valorizes solitude as the correct mode of encounter with the natural world—authorizes a view of wildness that necessarily excludes children."
On becoming a mindful father
"Much like living in the desert, becoming a mindful father requires an ongoing and often chastening process of attempt, failure, insight, and growth—and then, ever and always, attempt. Practice does not make perfect but rather makes more practice, and it is this practice of reflective parenting and attentive dwelling in place that has led me to discover enriching forms of intimacy within my family and within the wild landscape we inhabit. There is no place I love more than this high desert, no people I love more than my daughters. And yet there is a wonderful sense in which I do not know them yet. Even in the open desert much remains hidden. Hannah and Caroline too are deserts—each an exquisite mystery I have not yet solved. I need one more day, or year, or another decade; just one more walk, another mile, then 13,000 more. I am still learning to pay attention."
On parenting as an art of improvisation
"Parenting, like walking in the desert, is a meandering art of improvisation. The adventure never turns out quite as we planned it, the inner and outer weather remain unpredictable. We are in sympathy but never in control. We take conditions as we find them, putting one foot in front of the other as we navigate a topography of uncertainty, trying to make the most of each day’s pilgrimage back to the heart and to the land. We carry water toward our lovely garden, but end up using it to put out a fire. We set out for the spring but follow pronghorn tracks instead, intend to witness the rise of the crescent moon but are drawn to the huddled glow of the Pleiades. We search for ways to reshape our experiences into narrative, to transform a shared life into a story that can be given to our children, mapped onto the high, dry landscape of their only home.
In this wide open desert there are no trails, which is to say that any route you choose becomes a trail only as it is walked, becomes a story only as it is told. Before our children can fully engage the world they must first learn to walk. As a father I am still exploring the hard beauty of this wild landscape, learning slowly, with the help of my family, how to walk with and within it."