Summer, at least in my part of the world, is coming to an end. I can feel the whisper of winter on the back of my neck and the sweet smell of fall is almost in the air. While I sit on the verge of a change in seasons, I can’t help but remember a warmer time - a time before hell – when I had my son with me and we went on an adventure. 

We set camp in the west desert, far enough from city lights that you could see deep into the starry night. The heavens were almost close enough to touch. I remember talking to Mitch after we were tucked in for the night and looking through the net of the tent into the heavens, I asked, “Mitch, don’t you wish we could scoop up those beautiful stars and put them in our pockets like little glowing rocks?” Mitch smiled and said, “That way, when it is dark we could always see.” Mitch then burrowed into me and closed his eyes. He was the best at cuddling. I miss that.

Mitchell’s love of atmosphere and moods was one of the reasons he loved sunsets so much. On this evening the atmosphere was particularly beautiful because of some deep contrasts in color and light because of a passing storm. In every direction, save where the sun was setting, we found ourselves surrounded by towering clouds that stood like floating giants. They cast deep shadows beneath them and the contrast of light and color was thrilling to see. Each tower was also flashing with sheet lightening. In almost every direction these beautiful clouds stretched far into the horizon.

I remember wanting to take photos of the amazing sky and thought to myself, “I’ll take photos of the storm in a few minutes.” Before I knew it, it was dark and the beautiful sky that entranced us was forever gone. I regretted not taking that photo in the moment. Lesson learned.

With Mitch and my other sons cuddled next to me, we drifted to sleep. The next morning I awoke in tremendous pain - it felt like an elephant had stepped on my chest and broke my ribs. I had difficulty breathing and wondered if I had been stung by a scorpion (we caught one later that morning) or something else. As we broke our tent down I discovered I was sleeping on a jagged rock – which explained my sore ribs. I realized at that moment I should pay closer attention to where I set our tent. Another lesson learned.

After we arrived home, covered in desert dust and dry skin, I remember finding a pocket full of rocks in Mitchell’s pants. He had quietly collected little stones form the desert as souvenirs. I still have those little rocks in a special place. When I look at them I can’t help but wonder what he saw in each of them. I will forever wonder.

When I think back on moments like these, camping with my kids, I have the fondest of memories. Not all of them were wrapped in majestic sunsets and perfect moments cushioned in comfort. In fact, many of our camping trips were rather hard. We have camped in the bitter cold, high in the winter mountains; we've weathered torrential rainstorms, worried we would be swept away by a river of rain; and we have awoken to inches of new snow and many other surprises. Each was an adventure punctuated by difficulty and discomfort … yet is each a memory I am so grateful to have. 

I have noticed something interesting with Mitch and my other children. Often they would draw pictures of memories they had; and with their little hands they would sketch out our campsites and recreate the most difficult moments while camping … moments that were less fun while in the moment. 

I wondered why they would sketch the struggle and I asked them to tell me about their drawings. Each would say in their own way, “This was my favorite campout.” They would then explain what they loved about it. I was always surprised. These little kids with a pocket full of rocks appreciated the experience, however difficult, more than I gave them credit. I couldn't help but wonder if they were teaching me something important – that in the struggle is also the beauty.