Sometimes I just don’t get people. Take kids for example. In theory I know why people have them, care about them, even love them. Or, at least, I think I know. It has something to do with an iron grip our genes have on us. Ancestors of a more kid-relaxed persuasion have unfortunate tendency of disappearing from the gene pool. Regardless of the real reason, kids are valued in our society - like cars, or houses, or iPads - and one is supposed to look after them. Well, in any case, that has been my working hypothesis.
Then, one day, I find myself hiking down Mount Shavano happy that we’ve managed to get off the summit before the midday thunderstorm. Suddenly I see a tyke not taller than 4 feet running up. The kid looks scared, asks to use my phone, and frantically calls his mom. She is not picking up.
After couple of questions we establish we probably had seen his mother 30 minutes before. Her party was still going up while we were on the downslope. If we were really concerned about humanity wellbeing we would have attempted to turn them back. It’s a middle of the Colorado lightning season and thunderstorm is a daily phenomenon. During the entire hike we were acutely aware of gray, heavy clouds and one tends to be an easy target for lightning on a rocky mountaintop. Did I mention wet rocks tends to be slippery? But hey - it’s a free country. If you look remotely like an adult we are not going to talk sense into you.
But now we are with this kid on the verge of tears, scared of the thunderstorm (slowly but surely getting closer) and worrying about his mom on top of the mountain. We learn that his mom told him to wait for her. We are on 13000 feet - the partial oxygen pressure here is around 65% of that on the sea level. Which may not affect judgement but certainly causes one feel tired beyond actual physical exertion. Loose rocks make footing tricky. You can hurt yourself here in 10 different ways without trying hard. I would think twice about hiking this trail alone without at least letting somebody know my exact whereabouts. Then again: I am not a parent.
Come to think of it, American parents are strange. They talk about their children all the time (which, I realize, is not unique to American parents). They praise them for the most inane reasons. They forbid them them from playing outside unless it’s some kind of organized and supervised activity. They don’t let them walk to school even in those rare walkable suburbs. They teach them to use sanitizer instead of just telling them to wash hands. They refuse to vaccinate them because someone on Oprah voiced a negative opinion on the whole science thing. And then, apparently, they abandon those sheltered kids on the mountainside.
But those thoughts come much later. Here and now we are in pure survival mode. We try to connect with the kid. Not an easy task. Telling a child not to worry about his mom - good luck with that. We change the subject, try to talk about other hikes he’s been to. I suggest we all go slowly down (mostly for my own benefit - I am not a big fan of being in the middle of an open space in a thunderstorm). We start going down and sure enough wind picks up and it starts to hail. Not a life threatening size but big enough to be painful. Temperature drops suddenly and the kid start shivering. He is in shorts and a t-shirt. No, he does not have any jacket. His mom might have it but I would not bet on it and she is still nowhere to be seen. Natalia urges me to take off my jacket and give it to the kid telling him to follow us. I take a bag of rocks he collected and put it in my backpack; we start walking down.
Once we reach the treeline, err… shrubs one can barely crouch under, the kid starts crying in ernest. He is safe here and I am cold-hearted (not to mention really cold at this point without my jacket) so I pretty much just let him cry. People who were behind us start arriving. Apparently everybody either made it to the summit or turned back and they are all going to be here soon. After 15 more minutes the mom appears. Quite relaxed if wet. Kid stops crying as soon as he sees her, probably a bit ashamed at this point. I return the rocks, recover my jacket, bid the kid and his mom good bye and start down the mountain as hail turns to rain. The mom says something to the effect that it was nice of us to let his son use our cell phone. She heard the ring but was just at the summit in a hurry to get to the top so she did not stop to pick up. Which I know on some level makes sense. Or is very disturbing.
Here’s my modest request to American parents. I don’t much care what you do with your progeny as long as you don’t abandon them on trails that I hike. But, if you expect me to take care of your misplaced offspring, give them some clothing, since I am not sure I am parting with my jacket again to keep the junior warm and safe. Also, pick up your freaking phone when it rings.