In the course of a day-long run in the mountains nearby her home, ultra-trail runner Stephanie Eardley thinks about her young children and the lessons she hopes wild places will hold for them:
“Clear streams, meadows blooming in shooting stars, and subalpine fir knotted with krummholz at timberline: this is the habitat I want imprinted on my children’s hearts—an environment that will enhance their natural talents while also providing them with the tools they will need to counter life’s challenges. Together on these trails and along these meadows, we have watched white-tail jackrabbits turn from brown to white and bluebirds build their nests, examined porcupine quills, and lain in warm deer beds. These are the ridges where I followed them, as they followed their senses in sagebrush flats and alpine meadows, captivated by rose hips and flicker feathers along the allure of big game trails. It’s here that they’re learning their numbers by counting rocks they throw in the streams and their mosquito bites. For my son learning the alphabet, L was for lichen; for my daughter, M for mountain….
“Despite my efforts to…provide the best home for my children, I know that they will still face trials and heartache. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts my experience in the mountains has unlocked for me is the primal instinct to survive, to grab another gear and keep moving. The key to training for an ultramarathon is to slowly and consistently increase stress on your structures by no more than ten percent each week. Consequently, preparing for an ultra can take years. In the same way, as we hike, fish, and explore, I lovingly accustom my children to the discomfort that comes from fatigue, rugged terrain, and inclement weather, in hopes of incrementally building the strength of their structures and minds. I hope that by habitually exposing my children to the beauty and inherent stress of the wilderness, by cultivating their confidence and nurturing their curiosity, the talents and gifts embedded within them will be kindled, and they will not be daunted by steep slopes or boulder fields, but will instead use them to propel themselves to greater heights. I hope they will remember to observe the dippers and the smell of elk the way my mother taught me to do back when we were stealthy shadows searching for a glimpse of calves bedded in the deadfall.”
From “‘Just a Couple Miles’: Mountain Ultra-Running,” by Stephanie Eardley. Stephanie’s essay is one of several pieces in Deep Wild 2022 that explores how children experience wild places.