Saturday, July 19, 2008

On The Mountain

This past Saturday (not today, in other words), Timothy and I began what hopefully will become a long-standing tradition: Saturday with Dad. It sounds a little ridiculous, but unfortunately it's necessary. To wit: on Saturday morning, around 8-ish, one of the boys and I will go do something. Just him and me. We'll rotate through a 6-week cycle: Timothy, Stephen, Jonah, Sam, Kris, rest.

Of course there are rules:
  1. We can't spend more than $20, including lunch but excluding gas for the car.
  2. We are not going shopping, i.e., we won't just go to the mall and spend the $20 budget.
  3. We have to be back at the house by Noon.
We've been talking about this for a while with the boys, and the current lineup of activities seems pretty much to be Stone Mountain and Fernbank. I'm sure other things will come up after the upteenth time up and down Stone Mountain. But the choice of what to do belongs to the boy. I'm just along for the ride.

Why are we doing this? Well, starting August 18th, I'll be back in school. In case you haven't heard, I'm beginning law school at Georgia State. I'll be going at night, three nights a week. This will essentially remove me from family life for about 3-4 days a week for the next four years.

On Sundays we have church, Scouts, and community group. Monday through Wednesday I have work, then classes from 6-9, then in the library until it closes at 11. This leaves Thursday night, Friday night and all day Saturday to make up the projected twelve remaining hours of reading.

I love my boys. I want to see them. So we've carved out Saturday mornings as a time to spend one-on-one with them. We'll see how it goes.

This past week was the first one, and Timothy and I went and walked up Stone Mountain. Because of an earlier event, we actually did this after lunch ("earlier events" are not allowed during school, btw). He was excited, but nervous.

(The last time we walked up Stone Mountain alone, two years ago, he and I had The Talk. I don't think that was too traumatic an event, but he looked at me funny for a few weeks after that, and turned down other hikes for a few months. He's fine now.)

In the car on the way out, he put forward his wonderful Timothy Conversation Starter Question: "So Dad, what do you want to talk about?" Me being a nerd and he being my essential clone, we talked about soil formation on the mountain.

Yes we did.

And as we hiked up, we took turns pointing out to each other interesting examples of how and where plant life had found a way to live on a massive granite rock. We even saw a couple of lizards (or salamanders, or newts, who can tell?).

It was a relaxed walk. On previous solo trips this summer (I've been walking up the mountain in the mornings when Kris and the boys were at the beach), there have been similar father-son teams walking up, and several of the boys have appeared to be in a race. None of this with Timothy. We would walk, stop and look at something interesting. Then we'd sit down and drink our water and chat about what we'd seen.

Another point of interest was the carvings. Over the years (but not recently) people have carved their names into the granite of the mountain. Older carvings are much more elaborate, almost like calligraphy, with different widths within a letter and serifs on the type. Newer carvings are just block letters that might as well be done in Arial. There was also a portion where people had written their MySpace page addresses with Sharpie markers. Hm.

When we finally got to the top, we went inside the "new" building, sat in the AC and refilled our bottles with cool water. They have some interesting boards in the building showing the geology and biology of the mountain. On one of them Timothy read about tiny shrimp that live in the seasonal pools of water on the mountain. He was transfixed. "Shrimp? Here?"

For the next 30 minutes, we looked into every pool on top of the mountain. Most of them had nothing, and at first we thought they must just be too small to see. But then one puddle had dozens of them. We sat and watched them for a good ten minutes before moving on to the next puddle. I had to promise to bring a film canister so that we could catch some and bring them home.

All the way down the mountain we talked about shrimp. We talked about the kind that were there now (Clam Shrimp). We talked about the kind that used to be there but were considered extinct (Stone Mountain Fairy Shrimp). We looked into other pools on the way down (no shrimp). We talked about the Clam Shrimp lifecycle (one week) and about how their eggs exist as cysts and can last for years until the puddles fill up again.

On the way back down, we stopped at the "halfway" pavilion to drink our water. Now, there is only one water fountain on Stone Mountain: at the top. They trick you, though, with a pavilion about halfway up. Actually, it's halfway up vertically; it's about 2/3rds of the way up horizontally.

Anyway, the pavilion itself is straight out of any state park or church grounds. And in any other state park or church there would be a water fountain just next to the pavilion. Not so here. It's a mean trick, and most of the people sitting down on the benches don't seem too happy about it.

Being veteran mountain walker-uppers, Timothy and I had brought water bottles and had refilled them at the top. At the pavillion on the way down we drank some and then used the rest to re-wet our bandannas.

As soon as we finished drinking and using all the water, a massive family reunion group arrived at the pavilion. Every one of them asked where the water fountain was and cried out when told that it was at the top. I didn't have even a drop left in my bottle. I hope they made it.

Walking back down, we stopped to look at some out-of-the-way parts of the mountain (not on the steep side, just off the main trail). I pointed out to Timothy how different it looked compared with the path where we walked. Over on these parts, there was lichen everywhere and little clumps of secondary growth were starting even on the flat and exposed parts of granite. Timothy could have spent hours there.

On the way home, we had a meta-talk about the day and about beginning a new tradition. I told him that I hoped we could continue to do this even after I got out of law school. He said that was fine, but that he'd have his own kids someday and so he couldn't promise to be available every Saturday morning.

I said that was okay by me.


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