Our Joshua Tree

The skies parted and he pulled off of the lonely state road abruptly. “Let’s get the shot,” he said. “This will be the last chance. The sun will set soon.”

“What?” I was confused. “Why are we stopping here?”

“Girls, get your stuff. We’re getting out.” He parked on a dusty patch overlooking desert scrub. The light was perfect. Low mountains shone in the background.

“What shot daddy?” Each girl wondered aloud. What is all the hustle about?

“The reason I had four kids,” he said, as he threw open the rear door and set up the tripod.

It was part of a plan from long ago — a little idea we’d laughed about. One we’d packed for a week earlier. One far from my mind as I retraced this morning’s argument. While packing up to leave the beach house, words had been said out of frustration and expediency. Words like, “If you can help me, this will go faster.” Because making four beds is like that. It was understood to mean, “You’re not helping.” Which wasn’t true, except maybe a little?

The rest of our car trip was quiet. Except for the demands of the little people behind us. John and I were bone tired from a week of trying to help the girls enjoy the coast, while we worked late into the night to cover for the lost time. Our emotions were dry and brittle, with a few tumbleweeds.

Later on our drive, we held our breath through the long tunnel in a national park. I’d been holding in more than breath, and the resentment needed a release. At a second national park, the famous views we’re obscured by thick fog. Another metaphor. If we couldn’t see clearly, at least we could stretch our legs. A short hike on a bristle cone forest loop did the trick. Everyone started to breathe more easily.

Combining family road trips with work trips is usually better in theory. Sure, we had fun, and yes, it was a great change of scenery. But that critical vacation payoff — the renewed sense of energy, no matter how draining the journey is — was missing from this trip.

Then the rain stopped and the clouds parted. The late afternoon sun bathed us in shafts of gold. John had dreamed about this shot ever since I convinced him to have four children. Yes, it was cold and windy, but the girls laughed as they balanced on car seats and held their poses. The road, the traffic, and the harsh words melted away in one radiant moment. Laughing in the cold, with the image safely captured on the SD card, we realized we prefer the with, if given a choice of With or Without You.

Family Tree

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