Leaving Civilization to Find Family

A young family hiking a desert mountain trail


Sitting outside of the Davis Mountains State Park bath house, my Lady inside showering, I suppose I’m here to offer comfort. In case a killer might show up at the campground, and as horror movies have taught us, an attractive young woman showering will certainly be the first to go.

So here I sit, sheathed in a Santa Fe style blanket that cuts just enough of the evening chill away that I can feel good about watching the stars. I complain to myself of the full moon. The night before I’d seen how many stars are truly in the sky as I thought to look up late night, after that fat round belly of a floating rock had set.

I grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. And I’ve seen pictures of what the night sky actually is supposed to look like. I’ve camped in remote places a multitude of times. Never have I seen layers like here in Fort Davis, Texas. Speckled dots, some brilliant vivid, others faded background, some twinkling against swaths of purple space goo.

Until the full moon chooses to shine.

A pickup truck pulls up, headlights glazing my eyes over. All is lost.

Being remote is key. To hide away in the mountains, the desert, the anywhere-far-from-civilization is to not hide at all. It’s to find yourself revealed. To realize that all of this so called middle of nowhere is the only actual place left you can actually, truly be.

Where you can learn that long walks up mountains with your young boys teaches you how to be a family. How to speak calmly and slowly to children about the virtues of enduring something hard in exchange for beautiful views, for seeing some strange button cactus hiding in the rocks, for the extra leg strength you’ll build up and how that’ll allow you to ride your bike just that much faster later in the day.

Where instead of a television playing in the background while members of a family split off into their own corner of a big house, we all gather ’round a picnic table and watch the birds flutter about, or huddle in our Airstream and talk about the rain falling down outside, how it forces us to hide inside but results in all of the desert flowers that have transformed a rather barren West Texas into a pastel masterpiece just in time for Easter.

Where three generations can come together around a fire–the Lady and I, her mom, and our thirteen year old Tristan–to laugh about the fumbled and follies of the day, how our youngest Wylder threw a fit and fell out of the Airstream, resulting in an egg sized bump on his forehead, or how our four year old, Winter, managed to crush a single track full of rocks and roots on his 16″ peddle bike.

It’s about being a key turning an ignition rather than just hanging around on a chain.

These state parks and boondocking spots in national forests provide us with a reminder of how gorgeous this country can be, and of how connected we can be with nature, yes, but most importantly they simply keep the knit of our family that much closer.

And so I’ll fall asleep tonight in my van. Living a life many might already think extreme, dreaming of living in a different van. One without an Airstream in tow, without the freeways and sewage dumps that come with that sort of travel. One without needing to plug anything in, to hook anything up.

It’s a continuous struggle, this freedom thing. I have plateaued, but as any long hiker or biker knows, a plateau means that eventually you’ll find a beautiful slice of downhill. Or, if you’re smart, will figure out how to climb just that much higher, so that when the downhill actually does come, it’ll be all the sweeter, faster ride.