I refreshed my podcast feed and the She Explores podcast this week is called “To Dad, From Daughter.” Reading those four words had me weepy. And typing these words now, I have that attention-demanding lump in my throat that whispers-yells “I feel! I feel a lot right now!”
To Dad, From Daughter. An invitation to celebrate my dad through writing on this Father’s Day. I am often asked, “Sarah how did you get into the outdoors?” Before answering, my mind draws up the image of you in a green mechanic’s jumpsuit with your left hand on a gas pump, and your eyes lifted up above the car’s frame—into the hills of Yellowstone. I like to think that your adventures during your college summers pumping gas in Yellowstone were your first days of loving your future daughter, your future family. You spent such formative time in that park — living on your own, encountering people from across the country that were quite different from life on Wesley Drive in Charlotte NC, and running dozens of miles in between shifts to meet friends at other service stations. You spent time doing what you loved most -- a way of loving who you would eventually love most. Dad, you take me back to those summers of living with one of the most pristine tracts of American landscape in your back pocket. What I know, too, is that you must also visit those memories alone. You remember climbing the Grand with Featherston, visiting Cindy's life in the wild west for the first time, and sneaking out to catch the sun rise on tucked away lakes. As I acquired my own knack for the outdoors, I would feel sorrow and even guilt when I heard that you stopped climbing once you and mom started having kids. I worried I had robbed you of something you valued most. I think of the list of adventures I have had so far in my life — Alaska trail crew summers, a paddle through the Boundary Waters, an amble through the Himalayas, and now my second jaunt in the extreme south of Argentina. There were nights before I left for these adventures that I imagined myself handing my ticket over to you — honoring your Yellowstone wild and telling you to get out there!
With time I’ve garnered a wiser understanding of “wild” and “adventure.” Dad, in my 23 years of living as your precious daughter, you have accompanied me in my adventures in a way that assures me that we, your family, are the adventure you love most. You reserved campsites at Umstead on Friday nights, and mom met us the following mornings with Krispy Kreme. You stood beside a manmade lake on the Neuse and enlightened me to the fact that cutting off 3/4 an inch of a bass's tail isn't considered cheating in a big fish competition -- it is only being properly competitive. You took a picture of me in our living room the first time I ever hoisted up a self-packed backpack. You sent me letters written on the back of old Linville Gorge maps and addressed to a canvas tent in Denali National Park. You taught me the proper response for forgetting tent poles, paddles, and hiking the wrong way on the AT -- laughter and resourcefulness. You considered me a suitable trail runner for the last week of the 1,000 mile MST race; bussed me back to eastern NC gas stations when I suddenly needed tampons; and shared the honor of Diane’s last mile with me. You packed in a 15lb dutch oven on a weekend camping trip with my rowdy friends -- the wonders of backcountry deluxe were not lost on me. You gifted me a moleskin of your poems, meditations, and memories in that slanted scrawl (it always leans a bit forwards — I like to think of it as an expression of our wish to be a liiiittle bit closer to each other) of yours as I headed off for my own time at WFU. You sent PO box 8909 a letter each week and found me stationary that reads “The boat is moored, the spirit is traveling still.”
And that quote reminds me what I really want to thank you for today, Dad. Thank you for teaching me about the outdoors — for inviting me into wild places that first make me feel afraid and then make me feel brave. Thanks for teaching me that I belong in those spaces — that I am allowed to take up space in the outdoor community and lead others to do the same. I am a better woman for it. But even more so, Dad, I want to thank you for teaching me about the life inside — the wild inside myself. When I went to NYC for the first time and badmouthed “the big city,” you reminded me, “Sarah, there is more beauty behind every face you pass than there is in all of the acreage of Denali National Park.”
Thanks, Dad, for teaching me that everything is potentially sacred if we allow it to be. I cannot express how special it is to come to understand the truth that you hold us, your family, as the greatest, most sacred adventure.