Having Fun With the Kids
I remember my wife and I having such fun with the kids as they grew up in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming. Winters came early at Laramie’s elevation of 7,200 feet. Our living room was higher than the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire. But when winter did come, it was usually with full force around November 1st. Sometimes it would snow for three days straight and by early December there would be four and five foot drifts out on the prairie.When that happened I’d take the kids, Rich, Michelle and Maureen out on the prairie with a sharp-pointed shovel.
Having Fun on the Prairie
We’d find a ridge line out on the prairie where the snow drifted deep to the lea. While they played tag, I would start shoveling a hole wide enough for me to slide into and kept on shoveling down into the drift and shoveling until I reached the bottom of the drift perhaps twenty yards away. I would make sure there was enough snow at the bottom for the kids to come flying out of the burrough and onto the flat prairie below. I called it a “seal hole” and called the children over to the top of the hole to dive into it for a ride of twenty seconds or so down to and out the bottom. They would follow each other by ten seconds or so until all three came out the other side giggling away.
Naturally they climbed back up the side of the drift and repeated their dives into the seal hole over and over again. By the time we hiked back to the car and drove home they were more than ready for a nice cup of hot chocolate that my wife Maura had prepared for them. As they drank their hot chocolate, they told their mother of their adventures. When they grew older and stronger, they learned to cross country ski, and on weekends all five of us would ski the University of Wyoming trail up on Pole Mountain above Laramie.
It was fun to ski up to a group of mule deer or antelope and just watch them in silence. The lodgepole pine forest always proved to be like a snowy cathedral of sorts with chipmunks and pine squirrels and chickadees. Most of the time we would pack a lunch and pause in the snowy woods after a couple of hours of skiing and enjoy hot tea and sandwiches.
When spring finally came to Laramie in late May, it would be time for “pole soccer.” I found an old tire and tied rope to the upper end of the tire and suspend it from an T-shaped iron clothesline pole. Then I’d set the tire in motion to have the kids take turns trying to kick a soccer ball through the tire for three points from thirty feet away. If they simply hit the tire, they got one point. The first person to get twenty-five points won the game.
As spring changed into warm summer (Laramie has only 90 frost-free days), the five of us would take long prairie walks where I would show them edible plants like the roots of young yucca plants or the “apples” of prickly pear cactus. Sometimes we discovered natural springs seeping out of slanting bedrock or even crusty old snow patches hidden in some rocky crevice. We would be on the constant lookout for red tailed hawks or even golden eagles as we approached the base of the Laramie Range rising above the valley floor.
Climbing Medicine Bow Peak
But perhaps the most fun we ever had as a family outdoors was in climbing Medicine Bow Peak in the Snowy Range forty miles to the west of town. The climb usually took us around an hour and a half from Lewis Lake at 10,800 feet up to the summit just over 12,000 feet. Not only was it a great workout for all of us, but it also provided us the joy of finding many beautiful alpine flowers like glacier lilies and marsh marigolds and pink elephant;s head. We enjoyed watching rosy finches and pipits fly past us at the summit as we ate our sandwiches. From up there would could see numerous sparkling lakes where my son Rich and I had fished for brook trout many a time.
On chilly autumn evenings, we would light a fire in our little living room fireplace and as it crackled, we read aloud books about the West or about the original inhabitants of Wyoming, the Cheyenne or Shoshone or Arapaho Indians. Before the snows came, we would hunt for arrowheads or old tipi rings far out on the prairie. I believe all these activities not only created a strong family bond but also supplemented the the children’s schoolroom education. For me, it was a more than pleasant diversion from university teaching and committee meetings. For Maura it was all part of her job of being a full-time Mom.
These poems all take place in the late 1970s to the early 1980s in Laramie, Wyoming , the Laramie Range, and the Snowy Range.