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Thankful for a Tradition of Family "Outdoorsiness"

On my desk sits a large, framed, black-and-white photo that always inspires me. It's clearly from a bygone era. In fact, I know exactly who the sprawling group under the sequoias is and when it was taken, thanks to the carefully hand-printed inscription in the corner: Sierra Club, Yosemite, July 10, 1921.

Right smack in the middle are 2 smiling faces: my maternal grandmother and grandfather, in their courting days. I see in their smiles, especially in my grandmother's, a clear enjoyment of the outdoors. It's a legacy I'll always be thankful for.
Yosemite photo
In 1921, when the photo was taken, my grandmother, Grace, was a 20-year-old college co-ed. My grandfather, Irving, about 9 years older, had been an officer in WWI and was on his way to becoming a lawyer. Grace's mother, Bonnie, was an avid Sierra Club member who, according to family lore, had met and hiked with John Muir.

 My great-grandmother insisted her daughter and beau could not marry until the 2 of them went on a Sierra Club outing together. (Whether Bonnie was along as chaperone, I don't know.) Needless to say, my grandfather passed the Yosemite test.

My grandmother continued her intrepid journeys throughout much of her life. She believed in an outdoors, hands-on education and took her children on long camping trips, trailer in tow. She drove them from California all through the Southwest in the late 1930s, stopping to visit national parks and Native American pueblos, and continued down into the remote highlands of Mexico.

Author in GuatemalaAll these trips took place without her husband (yes, that same grandfather in the Yosemite photo), who was busy with his job. Later, after his death, she took each of her grandchildren on a trip. For me, it was a journey to the jungles of Guatemala when I was 8 years old (that's me in the photo dressed in traditional clothing by local Mayan women).

I'll always be grateful to her for the indelible memories of our adventure: touring the ruins of Tikal under the full moon by open Jeep; visiting Mayan market towns infused with colorful clothing and incense; and seeing my first monkeys and resplendent quetzal (Guatemala's spectacular national bird) in the wild.

My parents continued the tradition of cross-country camping trips (sans trailer) during my youth, further instilling in us kids a love of wildlife and wild places. Long road trips went the way of the dodo with my own kids, but we still went camping and got out into the woods and mountains as often as possible. Both my daughter and son, now in their 20s, are well acquainted with the inside of a tent and the heft of a pack, and love exploring new territory. I'm thrilled they're continuing the family tradition.

Looking back across the decades at my grandmother's broadly smiling face, I feel thankful she so generously shared her adventurous spirit with her family.

What family traditions are you thankful for? Which new ones are you starting?

Below: Author's grandmother with children, including author's mother, on a road trip circa 1939.

 Road trip, circa 1939

Posted on at 3:12 PM

Tagged: Guatemala, John Muir, Sierra Club, Thanksgiving, Tikal, camping, grandmother and national parks

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Thank you for a lovely post. Your grandma sounds like a fabulous gal who was ahead of her time. I really enjoyed seeing the vintage photos too.
Melissa Trainer

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Ann B

Thanks for your comment, Melissa. There were so many adventurous women back then (as there are now)--I'd love to hear about others from readers.


What an adventurous family. I wonder what became of the little children posing with you in Guatemala. It looks more like dry highlands than jungle. Are those stone slabs in the background?

Ann B

Hey, Offwidth. I often wonder what became of that family, too. Guatemala's been through some hard times in recent decades. Good catch on the dry ground--we went all over the place: Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, etc. I'm hoping to go back someday.


What a fabulous story, Ann! I can't believe your great-grandmother hiked with John Muir. What a wonderful tradition she began, and it certainly carries through your family.

Ann B

Thanks, Lisa!


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