This January, my nineteen year old college sophomore son and I went on a hike to Pierce Point in the Northern Point Reyes National Seashore. The weather was clear, but throughout our hike on the high ridge, pounding surf echoed below. My new tendency to impart advice whenever I got time with Bryce kicked in. I quizzed him as to what he should do if he feels an earthquake at the seashore. “Hike to higher ground,” he said in an exasperated monotone. “Don’t ever turn your back on the ocean,” I added, momentarily oblivious to his disgusted tone.
We hiked mostly in silence. We saw a herd of female tule elk with older calves. About a half mile later, we saw a herd of males, whose multipoint antlers against the hilltop resembled a moving forest of deciduous trees. I wanted to hike to end of the point, but since daylight was limited, I knew we needed to turn around.
We reached the old dairy at the trail head just as the sun was setting. The western sides of the white, lichen-covered barns appeared golden. The new grass glowed a brilliant green. Bryce had lugged his camera the entire hike, and had not pulled it out for either the female or male elk, but suddenly, he was meandering around the farm, snapping photos in the joyful way he used to in early high school, when he didn’t seem so exhausted by the world.
On our drive home, I remembered another winter golden hour our family shared the previous year: We had spent the day driving in the Colorado and Utah desert and we had reached the Bonneville Salt Flats in Western Utah just as a long day was ending. We should have been pressing on to find a motel before the winter night descended, but instead, we joined a slough of other motorists who were also transfixed by the orange sun and royal blue sky and sudden stillness. All of our day’s bickering and boredom were forgotten, and our family wandered, photographed, and sighed with contentment. Neither of my teenagers recoiled from my joyful hugs. The whole sky was a rainbow.
The minute we decided to re-enter our car, the spell was broken. The night air was cold, and we could only see what was illuminated by our headlights. I felt a lump in my throat, and I realized I was already nostalgic for the moments twenty minutes earlier, when our whole family felt joy at the same time. I wanted to bottle it up and give it to my children forty years in the future, so they could remember the magic we sometimes had together.