Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28
The sky is steel blue and the temperature is in the mid 60s as we get in line for breakfast, typical temperature for a morning in the high plains. We are at 6,500 feet above sea level, about the same as Mt. Mitchell in NC, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. We look up to mesas 1,500 feet above us and at mountain peaks in the distance around 11,000 feet high. Even though the temperatures will reach the mid 90s by the afternoon, the low humidity and constant, gentle breezes allow you to feel comfortable in the shade, which is fortunate, since I have seen no sign of air conditioning anywhere. (In the sun is another matter, however, and practically everyone here walks around carrying a water bottle.)
Jasper quickly finishes his breakfast of scrambled eggs and cereal and darts out to find his new friends. Our first breakfast may be the only time we eat with our grandson as he and his two buddies—Chase from Tulsa and Aleyah from Baltimore—begin eating together at a table they choose, usually sitting with other children their age. This behavior seems to be universal at Ghost Ranch since we see few kids over five eating with their parents or grandparents.
Our room is in the “Cottonwood,” one of two guest rooms above the library and only a few hundred feet from the dining hall. It is spacious with windows on three sides affording stunning views of the meadow, dining pavilion and towering mesas, and allowing good cross breezes. “Cottonwood” is an apt name since these trees are clustered around the dining hall and most of the other buildings; and this time of year the air is filled with white puffs carrying tiny cottonwood seeds, creating a magical effect.
At Ghost Ranch family week, organized activities occur every morning from nine to noon, following a short religious service for anyone who is interested. The service today, attended by 75 or so people of all ages, is much like the first one—guitar music with drums and singing, at first lively, sounding to me like rock ‘n roll, then more mellow. There is lots of clapping and swaying with the music. It seems like everyone knows the words to all the songs. The music then tones down as people sit down and listen attentively as the chaplain begins her mediation. We are asked to close our eyes and feel the spirit of God in our souls as we, “who are made in the image of God” experience the beauty and holiness of this place. We breathe in deeply, touch our hearts to feel our own heartbeat, and link arms with our neighbors in what can only be described as a sublime moment—until a cell phone goes off and the chaplain pauses just for a split second before saying cheerfully, “Do you think that could be God calling?”
A minute later the service is over, and everyone rushes out to a morning activity. Our activity—and we insist that Jasper join us instead of going with his new friends to “Kids Games”—is “Dinosaurs.” We head down to the museum where we meet Alex, the paleontologist. He is pudgy with a bushy white beard, balding, and walks with a waddle. He is worth the price of admission. With a twinkle in his eye and a wry wit, poking fun at just about everyone and everything, he never crosses the line to cynicism, though at times he comes close. He is what you would call a kind and gentle curmudgeon and is especially good with children. (We later learn that he grew up in Arlington, VA, worked in DC at the Smithsonian before discovering Ghost Ranch and moving here permanently in the mid 90s.)
There are 12 of us in the class, 7 kids and 5 adults. The oldest kid is 13 and wears a tee shirt, which on the back says, “I am autistic, please be patient with me.” He and his two younger siblings are accompanied by their 80-something grandmother from San Diego, who can walk circles around me. Over the course of the two days we get to know all the adults– all are women and are from all over the U.S.– and find them to be kind and gentle people. Jasper fits in nicely with the kids and adds to his new friends list.
Over the course of these two days we do a lot of things in our dinosaur activity: We make molds from fossils of dinosaur bones found on or near Ghost Ranch. We learn all about dinosaurs, rocks, and the various periods of prehistoric Earth. We hike a mile up a steep path to the site where the ceolophysis fossil–a small meat eater– was discovered, the only dinosaur fossil of its type ever found. The second day we take box lunches and drive an hour and a half–most of the time on a steep, deserted, one-lane, dusty road–to an old, abandoned quarry on the top of a 10,000 foot high mountain where there are thousands of rocks containing fossils of tiny sea creatures who lived some 350 million years ago.
Holding several of these small, round fossils in my hand, I pause for a moment and let my eyes wander to the meadow below and the forest on the other side. I can’t help wondering how long we humans will be around. What kind of creature will be examining our fossilized bones some 350 million years from now and what will they conclude about us and about our civilization?
Afternoons are free at Ghost Ranch so everyone sort of does his or her own thing. For Jasper this means reconnecting with his two buddies—eating lunch together at the same table, which only works when they secure an early spot in the cafeteria line, followed by an hour or so of three person soccer, then a hour’s rest, enforced by his grandparents, and then off again in mid afternoon to explore the ranch. It is not until around five that he reappears, smiling, just in time to get to the dinner line early so the Fabulous Three will have their table. The hour after dinner is more kicking the soccer ball around on the large field in front of the dining room, shared with serious Ultimate Frisbee players (mainly teenagers), requiring Jasper and his buddies to duck every now and then to avoid a sailing round disk. At seven pm a bell rings, the Ultimate Frisbee game concludes as people head to various evening activities like canoeing on a nearby lake, pottery, trail rides, rock climbing and yoga, and the Fabulous Three disappear again. We were worried the first night when Jasper disappeared and at 8:30 was still nowhere to be seen. Frantically, Embry and I visited every outdoor activity, but no Jasper. Just as the sun set he showed up to get his camera. He and his buddies had been at the stable area. We then established the let-us-know-where-you-are-going rule.
The grandparents spend the free time resting, napping, reading, blogging and wondering where on earth Jasper might be.