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Mom, Me and the Outdoors

How did it work in your family? Did your parents introduce you to the outdoors, or was it you who converted them?

WildflowersIn my case, Pa never gave into my outdoor vibe. A Georgia farm boy who believed the land was for tilling, not tramping, Pa scoffed at all my stories from the trail and dismissed me as the green sheep of the family. But flower-loving Ma, the northern Ohio girl who each summer crammed her front-porch flower boxes full of high-vis crimson geraniums—she got it. Ma and I had lots in common: reading (thanks for that, Ma), iced tea, Roadrunner cartoons and, as I learned later in life, wanderlust.

To my knowledge, my mom never once camped under the stars, never wore a backpack, never got more than thigh-deep in any ocean. Playing it safe was her style. But she always grabbed a front-row seat whenever I rolled out one of my backcountry slide shows, always liked hearing my tales of bugs and bears and big views, and she even taught herself not to look away when I busted out pictures of me sitting on some precipice while my boots dangled 1,200 feet above a valley floor. A wide-screen world seemed to appeal to her as much as it did to me.

LupineRoughing it wasn't Ma's game, but she was in tune with what I was feeling when I described my days and nights out in the boonies, the crazy freshness and freedom of it all. Many times during my early hiking summers I yearned for a specific superpower—the ability to teletransport my mom to one of those heart-clutching, had-to-hike-there vista points where I was standing, one of those places that make a backpacker glad to be a backpacker. That would have been a sweet deal: Beam in mom for a 10-minute gawkfest, and have her bring a sandwich and some of her iced tea as long as she was making the trip. Then, zip—she's back in her flower beds in Ohio.

Mt. AdamsWhile studying in California, I finally got a chance to show her a little bit of the American West one summer in the mid-'70s when Pa agreed to give me his '68 Plymouth Fury III (The Tank) for my third year of college. (Thanks for that, Pa.) Road trip—me and Ma. It seemed like the height of adventure to her, and I was fired up to introduce her to some of the landscapes I had spied on my first cross-country drive one summer earlier.

Anyone who has driven west from Ohio knows the scenery finally gets interesting once you're through Denver, and Ma was pretty knocked out by the Rockies. I was still a travel amateur at the time and now realize I missed out on taking her on some side trips and detours she would have loved. But just the mountain scenery along I-70 alone was a rush for my mom and, when the land turned red horizon-to-horizon west of Grand Junction, she felt as though she was surfing in her own Sea of Tranquility.

Ma took it well when we passed the sign in Utah that read "Next Services: 109 Miles." While stopped at an overlook that revealed countless square miles of the San Rafael Swell, she was a real trooper when I told her the only place she could take a whiz was behind that big rock while I wait right here. We hadn't seen another car for close to 20 minutes, so she was OK with that. My mom, peeing on a rock—a splendid memory tucked away forever inside my cranium.

WildflowersOnce as a wee lad, when my dad was plotting one of his trips to see relatives in the South, I somehow talked him into driving via the Blue Ridge Parkway, which at my age seemed like an American safari. It was the only success I had in persuading Pa to take a shot at the outdoors until the early 1980s, when I got him to agree to bring Ma out West and visit Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Whoa; my parents at 6,000 feet. Almost inconceivable.

Even in eyeball-popping Yosemite, Pa kind of shrugged it all off (boy), but Ma loved the waterfalls and Glacier Point and Half Dome and the splendor of it all. She got so spunkified that she even tried hiking to Vernal Fall with me. I had to turn us around halfway to the waterfall because we were cutting it too close to the departure time of the last shuttle bus from Happy Isles back to Yosemite Lodge. (No camping for my folks.) And there was Ma, the former heart-surgery patient, hustling down the path, digging every step she took beneath the largest trees she had ever seen.

Lupine and moreOver the years I had the chance to show her a few other worthwhile sites: the Badlands in South Dakota; Devil's Tower in Wyoming. But she never got to see Mt. Rainier in person; no pilgrimage to Old Faithful. She's gone now (rats), but I'm glad we had these starter-wheel excursions together in the Big Outdoors. Her love of flowers obviously rubbed off on me, and I guess my zany enthusiasm for big views got to her a little as well. That's a good deal, a fair exchange. Those memories alone will provide me with some nice moments of reflection on this Mother's Day.

Moms are fantastic, I think, and I'm fortunate enough to have a couple of "spares" in Southern California (you know who you are) who live near some dandy trails in the Angeles National Forest. If your mom is close by, share some time in the outdoors with her this weekend. All that fresh air does wonders for the heart.

All photos: Southwestern Washington © T.D. Wood

Posted on at 3:37 PM

Tagged: Mother's Day, national parks and wanderlust

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Oh how this post made me miss my 'Yosemite' days. The half-dome hike is a 'must-do', and some of my favorite memories are with my folks camping at Pinecrest every summer! I can still smell the breakfast my Mom would cook every morning on the little Coleman stove for her hungry army of children. :*)

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Darn Terry! You did it again - thanks! You transported me into your beautiful world without having to leave my desk or huff and puff up a single mountainside. What a great article and gorgeous photos - you ROCK! As the daughter of one of your "spare mom's" I will make sure to share this with her - it will totally make her day!

Ohio PAL

I never had the opportunity to meet your mother but I know she was someone's spare mother too! She gave you all good roots so that you can have wings! Keep soaring Terry!

Ohio PAL

I never had the opportunity to meet your mother but I know she was someone's spare mother too! She gave you all good roots so that you can have wings! Keep soaring Terry!


I was camping before I remember, in tents and pop-up campers. I have just recently returned to the outdoors after a long absence. I feel like I have come home.


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