Words and photos by Sunnie Francom
“Where are you and your family headed?” the woman waiting in line behind me asked. I explained we were waiting for our water taxi to take us across the bay to Kachemak State Park where we planned to stay in a remote cabin for three days.
“How old are your kids?” “Six, four, and one, I said. “Hmm,” she replied in a tone that implied she clearly thought I’d lost my mind.
Earlier that morning, I might not have disagreed with her. It had been a long night. The kids’ excitement was bubbling over and they had woken up every hour. And if that wasn’t enough, my own mind wouldn’t stop running through the packing list. Bottle? Check. Bear mace? Check. Rain jackets? Check. And with only two hours of sleep, my 4AM alarm rang.
Loading sleepy kids into the car, I held my breath that the ever-present Alaskan midnight sun wouldn’t keep them from falling back to sleep. My hopes were dashed ten minutes into our seven hour drive when our girls, River and Juniper, began with the first of many “are-we-there-yets.”
Arriving in beautiful Homer, we loaded our belongings and kids into “The Octopus”—the small vessel that would ferry us across the bay to the alluring Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park. As soon as we pulled out of port we took a deep breath of fresh ocean air, turned off the phones and left the tensions of the morning back at the shore.
The girls cheered with excitement when they spotted seals, eagles, and porpoises. But the highlight was the raft of thirty playful sea otters just before we rounded the bend and caught a glimpse of our cabin peeking out of the Spruce trees.
We wasted no time to unpack our bags and ran out the back door in search of our favorite juicy treat. Soon we were waist deep into salmon berries and blueberry bushes and emerged with blue-stained lips and fingers. The berry bushes led us down a path to a hidden beach scattered with treasures. The girls’ tiny hands overflowed with sea shells, rocks, and sticks which they turned into an instant watercolor art project. Two eagles called to one another and a cool breeze blew a mist across the beach. On the far end, a black bear and her newborn cub emerged out of the trees to search the rocks for muscles. We watched them for a long pause until the kids couldn’t keep their excitement inside any longer and their cheers scared them off.
The next morning we woke up to a drizzling and gray sky and discovered we had left some essential kitchen and food items behind—the most devastating being a bag of marshmallows. Frustration and irritation began to set in but it was quickly cured when our little boy Asher started a family pillow fight and made us all laugh.
We made preparations for the day’s hike, and soon were off exploring the surrounding mountains. Only a half of a mile into the hike complaints about the rainy weather and tired legs began, but we pushed on. As parents we often shy away from doing things that might make our kids uncomfortable, but I have found nature to be a great platform for children to learn how to push through hard things and build confidence in themselves. All you need is a good distraction and – voila—in no time the complaining is replaced with searching for fairy houses or exploring the forbidden jungle of doom.
Once we returned back to our cozy cabin, Juniper said, “Mommy, I was kind of scared but I told the scareds to go away and then I felt brave.” Her small testament warmed my heart.
Once we were rejuvenated from our hike, we prepped the pack rafts and headed to the beach. We spent the rest of the trip exploring the quiet beauty of the bay. When the water taxi arrived to take us back to Homer, we were reluctant to leave our cozy cabin and the closeness we felt among our family there.
As the stillness slowly slipped away, we found ourselves back at the car, loading bags full of soggy wool socks, blueberry-stained shirts, and water colored seashells. When the charming little town of Homer faded from view, River’s smiling eyes meet mine in the rear view mirror, and I reflected back to the lady waiting in the line at the beginning of our trip. Sometimes it can be hectic when adventuring with kids, but it’s worth all of the crazy. In the end we had grown closer, created new memories, refreshed our souls by simply living, and hopefully planted a seed in our children with a desire to explore.