Wilderness Guide and mother, Eilid Ormiston ruminates on fears and feelings: Parenting of Adventure-Addicted Children.
I watch him play. At the foot of snow covered hills, forests reaching behind, winter weary fields rolling down to the water’s edge. The roar of the water flowing out the restricted loch, forced through the narrows, falling over a fault in the rock out to sea, foam gathered in at the shore, swirling in eddies.
Wilderness Guide, Eilid with two of her adventure-addled offspring
A fellow kayaker joins him and the dance in the waves. Brightly coloured plastic toys in a cold swirly bath of white rapids and oily grey waters.
He looks so small and yet so large, filling the seemingly sterile wintry landscape with life, energy, joy and fun.
It is the first time I have seen him at play in this way. My son is 23, a white water kayaker who lives his life on the rivers in an endless search of that perfect wave, the ultimate fall, the climax of flow. Recently returned from Kenya and Uganda paddling muddy rivers that cut through the dry landscape of Africa that bring life to the land and communities but also journeying and adventure for the river goers.
Three months of coaching others on the rivers, leading trips down the rapids, imparting skills, knowledge and inspiring others to join the wet and wild parade. Nights at the fire side with embers slowly swirling upwards to join the starry skies above and tales told from the river of the day. Mornings of stiff muscles, grumbling bellies and the forever damp kit. And days filled with laughter, banter, exhilaration and camaraderie, mutual respect, support, energy and adventure.
Then onto the mighty Nile for a “holiday” a friend’s mother’s borrowed Landrover, boats loaded on roof, kit chaotically piled in the back and three tanned, tousled-haired youths with nothing on their agenda but the rivers. Driving dusty roads, searching for the put-ins, buying bunches of bananas from the locals crowding round the truck at every stop and questions answered of Where to go? Where to camp? Where to eat? More importantly, where to drink?
Camps set up, pushing through bush in multi-coloured clothes, plastic shells on their shoulders, paddles in hand, slipping down to the edge, slide into the small crafts, snap of elastic decks onto the rims and then they’re on. The waters carry them, bobbing along the wave train, they shoot the rapids, scout the falls, look for the line, debate, question, evaluate then off they go.
Muscle and eyes straining, keeping that line, a pry here – a draw there, lean this way, stay straight and then over the edge he goes.
Over and down, time seeming to slow, the boat in line with the falling waters, down, down, spray following parallel to his jaw, framing his body in sparkling crystals, falling, falling, in the flow, at one with the water.
And then the “boof” plunging into the boiling foam of the pool, momentarily submerged then popping up like a blue barrel, a raise of the paddle and a holler! The first descent of this hidden fall, deep in the African wilderness.
And this is my child.
I watch the films of his exploits, listen to his tales, share my admiration and laughter with him and his close friend. I can live it with him up to a point, I can imagine the scene, hear the voices, feel his joy.
But later on my own I watch the films again and realise the height of the drops, think about the risks, no one had done it before, what if? What could have?
Do I worry? I’m not really sure. Sometimes in my private moments, my quiet times I dwell, I muse and sometimes allow myself to think but what if he missed the line? He tells me casually “If you don’t get in the right channel – you’re dead” like it is an accepted thing. If you put your fingers in the fire they will burn, so don’t put your fingers in the fire.
Is it really that simple?
Every parent worries about their children no matter what age, where they are, what they are doing, they just do – it is part of being a parent.
I have three sons, they love adventure. I worried about my eldest when as a younger man he ventured to the Arctic with a youth expedition to Svalbard and spent four months on skis pulling a sledge loaded with supplies across the ice inhabited by more polar bears per square kilometre that anywhere on the planet. Now a geologist working in the urbanised central belt I worry about him driving across the city to work every day. I listen to the traffic reports of accidents nonchalantly until I hear “accident on the M8 east bound” my heart quickens, a quick text answered by “I’m fine Mum, I’m at work”. I could not do that when he was pushing through the white-outs in the polar regions.
My youngest, 18, currently working to raise funds to embark on a charity gap year to Nepal, his project a three week trek into the mountains to where he’ll spend a year teaching English to village children. But currently I worry when he goes out with his friends to party, when he gets in their cars, youths recently passed their driver’s test, smiles and the promise of good times, memories to be made that night, alcohol and goodness knows what else.