Looking for larch in all the wrong places

I dropped the boys off at school one day last week. ‘Did you see the weather forecast,’ a friend announced-asked, ‘it’s going to be four degrees next Tuesday.’ We shuddered, collectively, at the thought of cold weather and the realization that September’s warm, sunny days would seen be a very distant memory.

So on Monday – ‘the last nice day’ – and, as coincidence would have it, the only day on our family calendar that was relatively void of commitments, we decided to drive out to Moraine Lake, to see the larches, to test our teal Volvo’s ability to successfully transport all five Johnsons.

Yes, we actually allowed forced our children to play hooky from school. I’d be lying if I said the boys were thrilled at the suggestion.

‘We need to go to school or we’ll be late,’ they panicked.

‘We’re not going to school today, we’re going to the mountains.’

‘But I want to go to school!’ the Gort protested.

‘But I want to go to school!’ the Hen refused.

And I couldn’t help but think this was a slightly inauspicious start to what I had hoped would be ‘the best day ever’.

Getting out of the house in a timely manner is not our family’s strongsuit. I was reminded of this when I talked to another family who’d made the epic roadtrip to the Midwest this past summer. ‘Yeah, we got on the road at 6am,’ they told me. And that is precisely where the Johnsons fail. Try as we might, we can never manage to leave the house as a party of five before the clock strikes 9.30am.

And Monday was no exception. At precisely 9.30, we walked out the front door. After ransacking the house for the Hen’s ‘diamond’ sweater. ‘Everyone needs to wear a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt and a sweater,’ I instructed, anticipating the climatic variations between Calgary and the mountains. ‘I want to wear my diamond sweater,’ the Hen dug in his heels. I looked through the sweaters in his closet. No diamond sweater. ‘What’s he talking about,’ the professor asked, unfamiliar with any diamond sweater. But, I knew. The only sweater he ever seems to wear is a $7 cashmere sweater with an argyle design I found at TJ Maxx many years ago. [I had – stupidly – shifted the charcoal sweater to Percy’s closet because I’d assumed the Hen had outgrown the size 3T sweater.]

Another hallmark of the Johnsons: we only wear cashmere when communing with nature.

Upon reuniting the five year old with his beloved sweater, we climbed into the Volvo and headed for the gas station slash Sunterra. So I could pick up the requisite cheese buns and salami for our in-car snack. Whilst I stood in line for sliced deli meat, the professor remembered our Banff National Park Pass was still hanging in the car-van, so he drove back to the house for the pass. Unbeknownst to me.

I exited the grocery store and stood on the pavement, scanning the parking lot for our ‘blue-green’ Volvo. Nothing. Ten minutes later the professor pulled up to the curb. In the time that had lapsed I’d envisioned a handful of highly unlikely scenarios: the car had exploded at the gas pump or the professor had collapsed in a heap whilst pumping gas. I very briefly entertained the notion that maybe they’d gone home to retrieve something, but quickly cast it aside in favor of something much more dire.

Hence when my better half finally pulled up in his tiny car, I might have been a little irate with worry. Another setback to ‘the best day ever’.

Two hours later we arrived at Moraine Lake and walked past the lodge to the start of the Larch Valley Trail. There were two European-ish tourists ahead of us, carefully reading the: ‘this trail is only open to parties of four or more’ sign. You know, on account of the grizzly bear sightings.

They looked dismayed. ‘You can join us,’ I offered, ‘but [motioning to our 8 and under companions] we are very slow.’ ‘Well, either we go with you or we don’t go at all,’ the rule-following female member of the duo conceded. So we seven set off in search of the larches.

And I instantly regretted the arrangement because I suddenly felt pressure to walk faster so as not to irritate the strangers ahead of us. Eventually they decided they’d rather encounter a grizzly than traipse along at a snail’s pace and continued along without us. [Also, an 80 year old woman passed us going in the opposite direction. Without any hiking companions. I felt like asking for her contact details so she and I could become hiking buddies and I could leave my less than enthused family members at home with their Lego bucket, Hotwheels cars and DVD collection.]

Nearly two hours later we arrived in the meadow that overlooks Larch Valley. The boys were, seemingly, done. The professor had thrown out his back carrying Percy in the backpack and, as an added bonus, the vibrant, golden larches had faded into a burnt ochre color. And, courtesy of the strong wind, most of their yellow-ish needles were lining the trail.

So I snapped a few dreary pictures and we headed back down to the lake. The ‘exhausted’ older boys, with their ‘sore feet’ and ‘sore legs’ who’d spent most of the hike complaining about their plight in life, sprinted down the mountain; the Hen bouncing like a leprechaun headed toward a pot of gold.

On the drive back to Calgary the Gort munched on his newly acquired jellybeans from the Old Tyme Candy Shoppe at the Lake Louise village. ‘You’re right, I guess I would rather go to the mountains than go to school,’ he changed his mind – belatedly – swayed by flavored sugar.

I glared at him and focused my energy on consuming my decaf soy latte that tasted of burned plastic whilst deleting ho-hum pictures from my camera.

Hopefully our selective memory will kick in and we’ll transform this into ‘the best day ever.’ In five years.

3 thoughts on “Looking for larch in all the wrong places

  1. Kudos for trying – and aside from possibly not meeting your mental expectations, I’m sure it was up there as a best day ever now that it is later in the week 🙂 Sounds like a lot of fun – our families are so alike (and so are the mommas!) 😉

  2. Yes, well at least I could check it off my list – fun, or not. Sheesh, if only you lived here – just think of the kidless hikes we could do.


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