Discovering the world through the eyes of a 13-year-old visitor provides satisfaction
August 23, 2007
There’s no news flash in saying that 13-year-old boys see the world a different way, but the point was driven home this week when I led a nephew on adventures from Carson City to the coast to Yosemite National Park.
For this particular member of the teenage set, the world consists primarily of girls, trucks, sports cars, french fries, bikes, fishing, sleep, disc golf, TV, friends, cell phones and the impending threat of school. Emphasis on girls. In other words, it’s a pretty full life, and one in which a trip from Wisconsin west to Nevada could well be considered a disruption.
Not the case, I’m happy to say.
As I look at the pictures from the trip, I see a lot of smiles. In one, he’s holding a starfish at arms length near Monterey, and I remember the question, “they’re not poisonous, are they?”
There’s a video of him walking through Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite, the falling water deafening. We had hiked to the top in searing heat and found the highest pool, a scene almost unimaginable in its beauty.
At a bookstore in the park, when his attention was wilting in the heat, I browsed for a book with enough gravity to hold his attention. The answer was obvious when I saw a book called “Death in Yosemite,” detailed accounts of each of the 900 or so people who had perished in the park over the years. It was magic, but I was happy we had already been through most of the park, because hearing him read the accounts of people who had died in the very spots we’d visited, including the falls, was mildly disconcerting. Falls from high places was a popular theme, not to take away from wild animals, falling branches, drowning and lightning strikes.
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When I observed how it’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents on the park’s narrow winding roads, I got to hear the evidence to the contrary, especially people who had driven off steep cliffs. As my sister observed, it’s very fortunate that there is no cell phone reception in most of the park … imagine how high the death toll would rise. As an aside, one evening, we were playing disc golf in a meadow near the campground and I came upon, of all things, a cell phone in the grass. Dead, probably beyond the point of reviving it and determining who it belonged to, but it presented an opportunity for a creative exercise postulating theories, the most dire of which had us looking for the bones of the person who had dropped it. In my sleeping bag that night, I dreamed about the cell phone coming to life revealing clues to a complicated tale of intrigue. It’s possible I had the perfect plot for a novel, but it drifted away before I had the sense to write it down and the details are lost.
There are dozens of other pictures that reveal in very subtle ways the sense of wonder unique to children experiencing things for the first time: Walking through an aquarium of rays and sharks in San Francisco; swimming in the cold waters of Lake Tahoe after we paddled to a quiet beach on the east shore; leaning over the rail on the Golden Gate Bridge; resting by the flag above Carson City after gamely making a climb that’s difficult for anyone who doesn’t live at elevation; peering through a hatch on a WWII submarine; looking up into the mountains while riding the gondola at Squaw. And he was quite excited to learn about the Carson City version of celebrity in the form of Dennis Hoff. His family doesn’t even have HBO, the network that carries “Cathouse,” the reality show filmed at the Bunny Ranch, but he’d heard of it and there was no deterring him from going home with a Bunny Ranch T-shirt. Celebrity is a powerful force.
My nephew’s visit didn’t shift his gravity dramatically, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’s got a sore neck from stealing glances at girls on vacations with their families, or from sports cars passing us on California highways (he still talks about the million-dollar Bugatti we passed on Highway 1). But the world became a much bigger place for him. And I got to watch it happen, which was all the satisfaction I needed.
The day before my family returned home, I asked him what his favorite experience was from this trip? He didn’t pause a second before saying, “Everything.”
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at email@example.com or 881-1221.
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