When you were born, I didn't know what to think of you. I know I was supposed to feel this rush of paternal affection, but I didn't. Instead, I saw a discolored blob with a crazily shaped head (somewhat like a cone, from the suction cup the doctor used), and I thought two things: "Dammit, that kid's going to have to wear a hat his whole life" and "Well, we'll have to make the best of this."
Fortunately, that wild-looking head looked normal within minutes, and I was able to begin making plans for climbing mountains and playing football (real football, not that sleep-inducing stuff we in America call soccer-- we do need the "wink" emoticon here just to show I mean no real offense).
You got a good start. The day you left the hospital and went to your home, I held you in my arms as my Dallas Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns in their season opener. Somehow, you did not cry the entire time; I like to think it was the shots of the Dallas cheerleaders that kept you so content; they certainly held my attention. Anyway, you brought the team good luck.
By the time you could walk, you'd been into the backcountry of such great Utah national parks, monuments, and wilderness areas as Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs (specifically, Buckskin Gulch); and you'd also been into and atop some of the signature ranges and peaks of Colorado. You were on my back or in my arms most of the time, but you were still there. Your mother and I had agreed that amusement parks were out and the wilderness was in, and we've stuck to that through the (almost) five years of your life now.
Last year and earlier this year, I took you hiking and camping several times in Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls Park, and you thought it was pretty cool to sleep in the tent, sleep in the car, cook over the fire, hike in the snow, step out on frozen streams (don't tell Mom), and climb on rocks (and let's not forget your favorite part-- watching movies in the tent on the portable DVD player).
But I have been waiting for you to get old enough for me to take you into the Western landscapes that haunt me and inspire me and beckon me day and night. Finally, this past spring, I decided that you were old enough to appreciate them and that it was time to go. And so we went. To Nevada.
I'd have to guess it was a combination of the easy hiking, the rock scrambling (steps for me and Uncle Chris, but real obstacles for you), the old tunnels used by rail cars (just the idea of the trains had you hooked), and the lack of any noticeable wind (you did not like the stiff breezes we found in higher, more-exposed places, and I guess I can't really blame you for that).
But you had a good time the whole way, starting with the bumpy ride in, which was not anywhere close to as bad as some descriptions put it, and we had no trouble in Chris's Corolla. As we started hiking up the wide, sandy wash, you couldn't stop asking about the mine buildings and railroad tunnels I'd promised you would see. Fortunately, it didn't take long to reach the first ruins, and although you weren't exactly impressed with the decrepit boards and rusty nails, it was something to keep you going until we found the old rail tunnels and some (boarded up) mine openings.
You ran through the longer of the tunnels several times and got pretty excited when you saw the remains of the ties. You made me run through as well. Showing beyond any doubt your male bona fides, you felt the need to mark your territory in the tunnel and thought that was so much fun that you encouraged me to do the same (I'll just leave the SP community in suspense as to whether I actually did it, though, thank you very much).
It was hard to pull you away from the tunnels so we could get to what the big boys came for-- the narrows-- but we did it, helped by playing a game of hide-and-seek that involved our running ahead closer to the start of the narrows each time you found one of us. It also helped to tell you the narrows were a tunnel through the mountains, which was almost true.
Once in the narrows, you forgot all about the rail tunnels and threw yourself into the twists and turns and the "rock climbing." We all had to take turns hiding around bends and either being or running from the "Tunnel Monster," and your monstrous roars echoed through the stone hallways. Of particular amusement to you was pointing to sheer walls and instructing us to climb up them; we never quite understood the objective of that game, but it didn't last long, anyway.
On the way back home, you did have a little meltdown that seemed to come from nowhere. All of a sudden, you were thirsty and you didn't want to hike anymore and you never wanted to hike at all. Luckily, we were already in the car and back on pavement. You were just tired, and after a few minutes of not getting whatever it was you wanted, you fell asleep for the rest of the ride.
It didn't take long for you to disavow your disavowal of hiking and rock climbing.
I look forward to so much more hiking and climbing with you as you get older; I hope for a time, likely all too brief, that you will be able to climb what I do now and I will still have the energy for it. It will be brief because I was almost 34 when you were born. But if I'd become a father sooner, I might not have had the opportunities to do what I can now, and plus, it wouldn't have been exactly you who'd have been born.
Now we need to get to work on your little sister. She has shown some promise, and she will do, or at least try, anything you will. And we need to keep her away from the world of dolls and dresses as much as we can.