Somehow it’s me and four ladies camping high in the Idaho mountains, two of them for the first time.
It was an idea that came to me at some sleepless point in the night. I don’t know what it is about my midnight brain, but those ideas are usually manic. Like, hey, I think I’ll re-landscape the yard in the morning. Or run for mayor. I toss and turn, getting it all worked out in my head.
But this one still seemed rational when I awoke, at least to me. “Do we have any plans today?” I ask Jessica. “It might be nice to go camping.”
Like magic, the dream becomes reality. We zoom along Blacks Creek Road, our shortcut to the mountains, then over House Mountain and up toward Trinity Lookout, propelled by the back seat’s siren song, “how much longer?”
Our family was joined last month by a Brazilian exchange student. Welcome Laura! It’s nice we don’t have to learn a new name this time, though in Portuguese I guess it sounds more like lowwr’ruh (Scooby-Doo voice), or something.
One motive for the impromptu trip is that it’s probably our only chance to bring Laura camping, something she’s never done before. Mountains will be snowed in soon and Laura will be with her next host family before spring rolls around. It’s our host parent duty to share local culture, which to me is a campfire and a sleeping bag.
Brenna was proud to tell me recently she got the most points on a quiz at school about what you should bring camping. Well done! I’m curious to see what the quiz looked like. Was it open ended or multiple choice? Did it list a bluetooth speaker? Extra phone battery? Tripod?
Those of you paying attention may remember I was here at Big Trinity Lake with my brothers just a couple weeks ago. I told the kids about the moose and many frogs we saw. They don’t seem to care about the moose.
A student exchange helps us see the difference between contrivances — assumptions and habits — and the real substance of things, between culture and truth. Like how to stay warm by an open fire. Laura comments on the cold from her seat beside the flames.
“You’ll be warmer,” I explain to her, “if you stand and rotate like you’re on a rotisserie. Do you know that word?” I think she does because she laughs. I demonstrate nonetheless.
Our babysitting services are no longer required but we still have little Adalynn over now and then because she likes us and says funny things. She was already coming over today so we figured she could just come camping with us. Why not? It’s her first time too!
The evening and night are colder than the four ladies expected. I hear about it more than once. Jessica and I decide to have Adalynn sleep with us in our double-wide sleeping bag to ensure she stays warm.
It is an awful experience. Like a dark, inverted fairy tale, Adalynn becomes a frog in her sleep, constantly kick, kick, kicking her way out of the bag. It’s near freezing. We can’t let her stay out there so Jessica and I grab her legs and slide her back in between us roughly a million times throughout the night.
“I want to go see Nibbles,” Adalynn tells us in the morning. She doesn’t want to be here anymore (like she’s the one suffering). She wants to see our guinea pig, fish and the neighbor’s dog back home. It turns out it was never us she cared to visit.
Somehow we cater to this nighttime nemesis. Can we bundle you up? Want some hot oatmeal? It’s like we have Stockholm syndrome.
“It’s name is ‘Nibbles’?” Laura asks, emphasizing the “b” sound. She thought we’d been saying “Nipples” the whole time. Crazy Brazilians. We have a good laugh at that.
The frog army my brothers and I saw here has dwindled to a few deserters but enough remain to hold the girls’ attention after breakfast.
Brenna, of course, captures several frogs to bring home to our pond.
“Why doesn’t my phone work?” Laura asked yesterday as we got farther from home. I guess we didn’t think to mention that would happen. “I’m a fifteen-year-old girl!” she said in (mostly) mock protest when we explained.
It made me think of a widely circulated article I read recently on the empirical effects of adolescent phone usage. (You should check it out — link below.)
Across a range of behaviors — drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised — 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school … The number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half.¹
We don’t say it to our kids but Jessica and I have been known to say to each other, “when I was their age, I remember doing” X, Y and Z, more grown-up things. We don’t harp on the kids about it because it’s not obviously good or bad; more like one of those cultural things.
But the article continues …
The Monitoring the Future survey … has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991 … The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.
It goes beyond just happiness.
Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011 … The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression … Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide … This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys … Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent.
All that being said, we haven’t detected much of this with our kids. Exchange student Laura seems always positive and outgoing. Brenna can get a bit obsessed with screen things but she recovers quickly when we boot her off. It’s a slippery issue to deal with as a parent.
I try to hide my disappointment when nobody wants to hike to Rainbow Basin. “It was part of the reason to come here,” I mention, trying not to belabor the point. We camped beside the trailhead. I even brought shoes. But I know everyone feels worn out this morning.
“I think I’ll just hike a bit myself,” I say before adding, “you want to go Brenna?”
“Sure,” she says.
The trail climbs above the lake into a charred forest. It would be a few miles to get into the basin but Brenna is already falling behind. “How much farther?” she asks when she catches up.
I slow down to close the gap between us. “How about we go just to that clearing there,” I say pointing, “and turn back?” Brenna seems glad to have the end in sight.
We aren’t far below the ridge that would give us a view into the basin but the commitment to turn around here was already made. I’ll do more to market the hike next time we come this way.
“We learned about fires at school,” Brenna tells me.
“What did you learn?” I ask.
“How they can help the forest.”
“Oh, you mean wildfires,” I say.
Jessica and Laura have been busy breaking down camp. When Brenna and I get back, I have only to fold up the tent and stack things in the Jeep and we’re ready to go.
A gate below Trinity Lookout, the highest in the state, only permits ATVs or smaller. It’s an awesome view from there but we settle for the road below. We can still see Prairie, Anderson Ranch Reservoir and beyond to the Snake River Plain.
I hear Laura’s phone chime and know we must have come into a bit of service. Her friends will be relieved to know she survived in spite of so long incommunicado.
I might tease her but really, like our own two oldest daughters, she’s far braver than I am, going to live in a foreign country with strange people. A tiny camping trip has nothing on that. I hope it nonetheless adds to her stories, the tapestry of her life. I know it has for me.