Thursday, July 2, 2015

Leaving the Nest - A Father's Reflections

I wake in the early morning darkness to the realization that my son is gone. Really gone. His room empty. The piano, silent. The little towheaded boy I once cradled and tossed into the air, laughing, is now a grown man and off on an adventure that will lead him half way around the world. For two years, we won’t see him except via Skype on Christmas and Mother’s Day, and won’t hear from him except one short email a week (we hope) and maybe a handwritten letter here or there.

While many cultures have their coming-of-age rituals, it’s hard to imagine one more dramatic than what we Mormons put on. Right on the cusp of maturity—usually at 18 or 19—many dedicated young Mormons turn in a set of papers that say, in essence, “I’m willing to go anywhere in the world on my own dime to serve as a missionary. You tell me where, and I’ll go.”

The papers go in, and an anxious three or four weeks commence where their future hangs in the balance. They could serve anywhere—literally—from Moscow, Idaho, to Moscow, Russia, and everywhere in between. Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Germany. That litany represents the places where just my immediate family has served.

The morning his call arrived, the local Post Office called at 6:00 a.m. to let us know, as is their tradition. Jordan chose to open his call alone, in the mountains that he so loves. He returned to a large gathering of friends and family, re-opened the large, white envelope, and read aloud these words: “Elder Hawkes: you are hereby called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Taipei, Taiwan Mission.”

That was March 14. Less than two months later, we dropped him off at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. When I was a missionary there in the early 1990s, the new missionaries and their families met in a large room informally dubbed “the cry room” to hear a few talks, sing a hymn together, and then say good-bye. The missionaries went out one door and the families, another. Dealing with ever more missionaries and perhaps realizing that the cry room made it even harder on everyone, the Church has now dispensed with that step altogether.

We arrived at the designated time, and were directed by a series of missionaries to a spot on the curb, where still more missionaries greeted us, grabbed our son’s luggage from the back of the van, and offered to snap a quick family photo. One round of hugs, and that was it. We were off, without time for so much as a backward glance, to endure a tear-filled 60-minute drive back to Centerville. Christian, age 5, who absorbs everything, picked up on the “Hey, this is a great day for Jordan” theme and kept repeating it over and over, despite his sisters' tears. That didn’t last long, however, as he melted down the next day, wailing that he “can’t give Jordan a hug,” that he “misses [his] brother,” and won’t see him for “two whole years!”

The night before Jordan left, he was set apart as a missionary, meaning he was given a special blessing by our local lay minister, after which he formally assumed the missionary role and became subject to the rather strict rules of mission life, one of which is that, with certain rare exceptions, he won’t be alone for the entire two years. Ever dutiful—and also mindful of those whom he would leave behind—Jordan quietly dragged a foam pad and sleeping bag into Christian’s room, telling him that “you can be my companion tonight.”

We’ll sure miss that kid, even as we take comfort in knowing that he’s in good hands. He’ll be watched over and guided by dozens of fellow missionaries who will help him learn the ropes, adjust to a new language and culture, and refine life skills ranging from dealing with rejection (the bread and butter of missionaries everywhere) to sewing on a button.  Beyond that, he’s in the Lord’s hands, which are, of course, the surest and safest hands of all. Even so, the parting remains bitter sweet. God speed, my dear, sweet boy. We’ll see you soon enough.     

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - The Oregon Coast

They say few women would give birth to a second child if they could remember the pain and discomfort associated with delivering the first, and the same may hold true for parents and long road trips with kids. Fortunately for both second children and road-trippers like us, we tend to forget, and so we planned an ambitious road trip this Spring break: 2300 miles in 8 days, from Salt Lake to the Redwoods of Northern California, the length of the Oregon Coast, and then home.

A 6 a.m. start put us across the salt flats in time to see the earth's shadow retreat slowly to the West and a rising sun kiss the summit of Pilot Peak and, ultimately, light up the deliciously incongruous World Tree, just east of the bustling metropolis of Wendover, Nevada ...

Just as "Big Hero 6" on the DVD player must eventually must give way to "The Incredibles," and "Ratatouille," so the limitless horizons of Utah and Nevada must eventually yield to the Ponderosa pines of the Eastern Sierra, and, eventually, the rolling hill country around Redding, California, where we stopped long enough to grab a remarkably good dinner at The Taj Mahal, an Indian restaurant that serves no less than four beef dishes(!) Go figure.

From there we wound our way along the interminably long Route 299, redeemed from its interminably long windyness by the striking topography of the Trinity Alps, the Trinity River Gorge, and the supremely quaint town of Weaverville, which begged to be explored but fell victim to the overriding desire to put our long car suffering to an end and make it to our hotel in Arcata before the pool closed for the night. (First things first on long road trips with family.)

The next morning, we headed over to Eureka to take a gander at the Carson Mansion in Eureka on a mild, sunny morning, with a salt breeze in the air ...

This stop represented a 'coming full circle' moment for the Hawkes Clan, which marked its auspicious start in 1994 with a honeymoon trip beginning in San Francisco and wending up Route 101 to Eureka, where we spent two nights at the Eureka Inn. It seemed a lot fancier then, but maybe we just weren't paying much attention to the architecture ...

One of the more impressive things we saw in Eureka was this orb spider's web, which rivaled the Carson Mansion for its intricate detail.

From Eureka, we headed north to the redwoods, which are best on cool foggy days when the rhododendrons are in bloom. Alas, we were too early for the blooms and cursed(!) with bright, sunny weather. Still, there's nothing quite like the redwoods, which can't help but leave one looking up, awestruck by the sheer weight and presence of these massive trees.


In the redwoods, we experienced everything from Joseph Smith moments ...

To moments of (feigned) quiet contemplation ... 

To a bit of monkey see monkey do ...

To interesting things on a decidedly smaller scale ...

And wild animals!

At the north end of the Redwoods, we took a lovely path through the forest to Enderts Beach, just south of Crescent City.

And so began the beach chapter of our journey--an endless stream of rough, wild, and interesting beaches, rocky points, and sea stacks.

It takes a land lubber to fully appreciate the ocean: its power, its vastness, the ceaseless war of water, earth, and sky. To those who live near it, however, that wildness and mystery fades into the familiar--loved, but not fully appreciated.

Thus, to the locals, Thor's Well (pictured above) is "the toilet bowl," and the magnificent Devil's Churn, "just a bunch of water sloshing around," at least in the words of the lady who runs the snack shop at Cape Perpetua. For a family from land-locked Utah, however, everything from a sea star to an agate on the beach remains the stuff of myth and magic. (And I don't care who you are: the Devil's Churn at midnight on a rising tide, under the light of a full moon, is as sublime an "in nature" experience as one can find anywhere.)

Moving north from Crescent City, we spent one night in Bandon, Oregon, at the Table Rock Motel, where a quaint two-room suite reminded me of my Grandparents tidy little home in Pocatello, Idaho, down to the old fixtures, low ceilings, and linoleum. From the motel, it's just a few steps to the beach, which was windy and wild when we arrived, just after sunset.

Our next stop was Yachats, near Cape Perpetua, where we spent two nights at a cozy vacation rental called "the Crow's Nest," complete with beds tucked into the nooks below the windows.

The area around Yachats has lots to do and see: hikes through the woods, overlooks high above the coast, tidepools, and agate beaches. Okay, so the entire Oregon coast boasts pretty much the same stuff, but this area was spectacular. 

(A spouting horn, Cape Perpetua)

(View from the West Shelter, Cape Perpetua)

(Mary and Christian experiencing an all-too-rare bonding moment.)

(Our three oldest, realizing why it's called 'the Devil's Churn')

At a beach south of Cape Perpetua, Becky came across something that managed to be both cool and depressing at the same time--an empty bottle of "Wonderful-K" detergent. Cool, because it drifted all the way across the Pacific Ocean; depressing, because it likely started its journey via the horrific tsunami that hit Northern Japan in 2012. 

The tidepools in this area are great at low tide, with new discoveries around every corner ... 


We tend to find sandy beaches ... well ... a bit boring. So the rocky and varied beaches of the Oregon Coast were just what the doctor ordered.

Did I mention we like looking for agates?

And shells?

(Olive snail shells ... one of our favorites!)

And exploring tidepools?

On one of the beaches south of Yachats, we were hit by a brief Spring thunderstorm that included wind, rain, and driving hail. 

Fortunately, however, I found my family at the end of the rainbow (even if they happen to be running for the shelter of the car at the moment this picture was taken).

One of our favorite things to do as we moved north was to look for migrating whales at the many overlooks. Initially, we hoped to see one, but it soon became apparent that there are a *lot* of whales moving north this time of year. (We saw dozens, particularly in the southern part of the State.)

Saw a few sea lions too, even without stopping at the Sea Lion Caves ...

And lots of picturesque lighthouses ...

Our longest driving day on the coast proved maybe a bit too far--from Yachats in Central Oregon to Cannon Beach in the far north. Even so, we found time to stop for ice cream at the Tillamook Creamery ... 

Stumble across many more new and interesting beaches ... 

And spend a delightful hour or so at Hug Point State Park at day's end--a great place for, well, hugs ...

Family photos ...

Photo bombs of family photos ...

And the supremely cool effect one sees on wide sandy beaches just before the light fades to black, when details fade and outlines sharpen and everything's painted in blue, a quiet time for walking and reflection ...

Or maybe just looking for sand dollars, 'cause that's how we roll.

We didn't have much time to spend at Cannon Beach, but did take a stroll down past its iconic sea stack ...

... where we bid farewell to the spectacular Oregon Coast (for now).

Heading north and east we stopped briefly at the Lewis & Clark National Park (cool, but probably not worth a drive unless you're in the area already--we've been spoiled by Ken Burns).

And then headed to a place we most definitely do recommend: the Lan Su Chinese Garden, a serene oasis in the middle of a decaying industrial area in downtown Portland. 

After a great dinner at the Tin Shed Cafe in Portland (highly recommended--their happy hour small plates are da bomb), we spent the night in Gresham, and then headed home the next morning through the Columbia River Gorge, replete with hanging clouds and waterfalls around every corner, including the incomparable Multomah Falls. 

And that's a wrap. All in all, a a road trip for the ages, tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that it's probably the last with our family together like this. With Jordan heading to Taiwan for two years and Sarah likely to head off to somewhere else as soon as he returns, who knows if/when we'll manage another trip like this one? Still, an experience worth savoring and celebrating for many years to come. Go team!