A Walk in the Park

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2004

It was a rock like many other rocks.

Actually, it was like every other rock, indistinguishable from the thousands of identical rocks surrounding it along the trail.

But we stopped to look at it anyway.

"Is it an arrowhead?" asked Isabel, her hands on her knees.

"I think it's an arrowhead," said Dillon, bending over.

It wasn't an arrowhead. It was a rock (see above) that happened to taper to a vague point at one end. But still, we looked.

Twenty paces later, we stopped again.

"Look at this one," said Dillon, squatting.

"Mmmmmm," said Isabel, peering.

And thus we hiked -- if that's the right word -- for six miles into the backcountry of Montana's Glacier National Park. We were two dads -- Jim Sebastian of Takoma Park and myself -- and two daughters -- both just shy of 7 -- on a one-night backpacking trip through Glacier's peak-to-pebble marvels. Having watched them master soccer, outgrow all the boys in first grade and show at least as much interest in spiders and snakes as in Barbies and Bratz, we decided Dillon and Isabel would nicely round out a backcountry foursome.

We were right. Packs filled with clothes, water and trail mix were nothing for little backs already toughened by school bags that groan with math books and Harry Potter hardcovers. Hours of single-filing it between art and recess and gym made keeping to the trail a snap. What could be better training for a one-pot mystery stew than two years in a school cafeteria?

Forget reading and writing; what public schools do well these days is turn out a first-rate wild girl (the nature kind, not the Daytona Beach kind -- although I'm sure that's coming). I remember whining and crying for every step of my own first six-mile hike up a mountain. And I was in college.

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