Lost in Maples


They wander, these children of mine. They wander and they wonder, and then boom, you take them out of their comfort zone and here comes the whining. It was late, and we had driven 3.5 hours to a place we’ve never been before. It had been a whirlwind day of packing camping gear and getting the kids out early. We tried and tried to get to the campground before dark, but it was not happening. Both Matt and I worked all morning, and we rushed through the drive, picking up Wendy’s cheeseburgers on the way.

By this point in our lives, our girls are pretty great at backcountry camping. They know how to ration their food. They know to always be looking for water. They know how to look out for and to respect the wildlife. They don’t mind the lack of comforts, and they can walk a long time. They impress me every single time with their quiet determination, which screams to be remembered when we return to normal life.

We jammed out to music on the way, enjoying the appearance of Texas mountains against the sunset. It was a short Fall trip to Lost Maples State Park inspired by a Friday off of school. We arrived to the honor payment system box, which is another reason to love camping, and it was truly dark. I passed out flashlights and Matt went to fill water. “Oh, no, Mom!” Lydia cried, “OH, NO!” Tears were coming. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them. “What? Tell me!” I said. “My backpack isn’t in there!” She had left it. We all sat still for a minute. The tears were falling. Then we all moved at once. “She can use my extra daypack, Mom,” Anna said. Maile offered her own food rations, and Claire had some clothes she could wear. We shifted things around and made it okay for her. I was proud of all of them. We made final preparations to our backpacks, and then they tried to scare each other with their flashlights.

We all used the port-a-john one last time, and then we just waited. Claire and Lydia voiced their fears. “But, we’ve never hiked in the dark, Mom!” “How will we know where to go?” “I don’t think I want to hike in the dark to a place I’ve never been.” “What if we get lost?” “I’m scared, Mama.” “I want to go home.” “I’m tired, Mom.”

“Whoa, now! Easy! We aren’t starting out with fear!” I said. I could sense the downhill slide we were already on.

Maile came back from the portable toilet and said, “There’s a man asleep in that car over there.”

“That’s great,” said Anna sarcastically. Still Matt wasn’t back from the water source.

“Look, we have a map. We will follow it and we will be just fine. Don’t be afraid. This is a new adventure,” I said. “Getting lost might be just what we need.”

They eyed me suspiciously. I went on to encourage them to look for nocturnal animals. Anna and Maile began to do a weird flashlight dance. I took their photos. When Matt arrived, we were laughing and ready.

“I’m holding your hand the whole entire way,” Claire said pushing her small hand into mine.

“Oh, good!” I said.

“Are you scared, Mommy?” she asked.

“No, I’m excited to hike in the dark because I’ve never been here. We have everything we need to find our way. Plus, we’ll be together, which is the best part.”

We found the trailhead with ease and began hiking in the quiet night. We were not particularly quiet, but we tried to be. And then we heard some rustling on the right of the trail and we all stopped. Claire squished into my side and squeezed my hand tighter. Maile shone her light into the trees. There was an armadillo with his funny little butt facing us. He was munching on something. He turned around and looked at us and stood up on his hind legs. We laughed and then he ran away. We kept hiking.

“That was so cool!” said Lydia. “That’s my favorite part, so far,” she said. Everyone got quieter, and we decided to stand still and turn off all our lights. Looking up, the stars were amazing. Amazing. Like what that word was meant to be used for.

Then we came to a fork in the trail. One crossed the creek and one went to the right. We pulled out the map and showed the kids. We wanted to go on the West trail. They figured it out and we went to the right.

We found the primitive camp area easily, but it was hard to find the optimal tent site in the dark. We could hear the water, and the trees were surrounding our smallness. We are lost, I thought, and it’s great. The girls heaved off their packs, and we went to work like a tent assembling machine. Why do we underestimate our children? They are capable of the grand and fierce.

The rest of the weekend was great. We swam in the cold pond and we hiked beautiful trails. The hike in the dark made the biggest impression, though. I watched them as fear turned to wonder to delight.

Parenting and spiritual formation is a little like hiking in the dark sometimes. But, what if we didn’t let fear rule the school? What if we remembered that we have what we need to set out on this adventure? What if we realized that we might get lost sometimes or experience new situations? What if we acknowledged that we can lead them even if we don’t have all the answers? What if we entrusted some important things to the kids to carry along on this journey? What if we were okay with all of this, knowing that we are together after all and that being together is the best part?

Then…just maybe…a hike in the dark may turn out to be your favorite part.

Katie Sciba is a writer, a licensed social worker, an ordained Baptist minister, a pastor’s wife, and a mother from Victoria, Texas. She is married to Matt, and they are parents to Anna, Maile, Lydia, and Claire. Katie is the author of Place Value: The Journey to Where You Are and blogs online at Always Simply Begin. Katie loves yoga, good reads, and hiking with her family.

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  1. Hey Katie, great story, and I we are more than comfortable being out in the “back country” (not a term we tend to use), but I’ve gotta say, one of my favourite times for being in the bush is walking in the dark at night! 🙂