The Mulberry River

Saturday's sunrise In Bentonville

Yesterday, after David and I helped a friend photograph a local Valentine's Day race, we woke Joe at noon, fed him and loaded up the car for an afternoon of hiking and exploring the Ozark Highland Trail and the Mulberry River. This time I had my little Lego storm trooper and his little red boat, my crystal ball and an early Valentine's Day gift from David, a pair of waders.

I really do have the best husband in the world, I think.

We started out hiking and discovered beautiful views, "Be Bear Aware" signs (but sadly, no bears), and a house built into the bluff line that was entirely constructed of giant rocks that once must've littered the trail we were following. I told the boys that it was the headquarters for the "OBBC", or "Ozark Black Bear Council".  My boys just shook their heads at my imagination running rampant.

But what if that little rock house really was where the bears met to hold their monthly meetings or to gather for a cocktail party? It could happen . . . 

Moving on.

We hiked about 30 minutes longer before deciding to head back to the car and head down to the river.

I don't know what it is about being around water and rocks and dirt, but Joey just came to life, immediately picking up a handful of flat rocks and skipping them across the water effortlessly. He obliged me by taking underwater photos with my phone, helped me with seeing my storm trooper off to sea and even let me take Real Pictures of him. He and David had rock skipping contests while I waded about in my wonderful waders, getting pictures from angles that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get and all three of us played with my little Lego guy, Joey balanced on a rock on his stomach letting go of the boat with David further down the river, ready to catch the small sailor and me in between, taking pictures and shrieking when the boat would hit a stick and capsize, dumping the storm trooper in the drink. 

I honestly don't remember the last time I took so many pictures of Joey. I realized after our summer vacation to Utah last year that he doesn't mind having his picture taken as long as he doesn't have to sit still for it and that he can be in his natural element, the big outside world doing what he loves doing whether it be mountain biking, climbing rocks or playing in the water. I had so much fun just watching him yesterday and hearing him laugh and joke around with David. I realize that I spend a great deal of my life observing Joe, watching him when he doesn't know he's being watched, smiling to myself as he straightens his placemat or silverware just so before he eats supper every night; how his face lights up as he tackles the task of explaining a math problem to me that is so far out of my comprehension that he may as well be speaking Greek; how he will absentmindedly lean down and scratch Langley between the ears while he's playing his computer games. All these things I silently take note of and they cause me to fall in love with him all over again, day after day, moment after moment. I love having this time with Joe, this time before he goes off to college in two short years. I got to know Joey as a baby and a toddler and a pre-schooler while Meghan was off at school during the day, but when Joey began school, time ran away from me and then David and I were wrapped up in getting Meghan through high school and then off to college and graduation. It seems in just this past year that time has finally slowed a little and now it's time to get to know Joe as a teen ager, to see him as what he might be like as a grown man. We have our best talks on the way home from school when he opens up to me and tells me what he wants to study in college (cyber security) where he'd like to live (Utah or South Dakota) and what it would be like to work in a bicycle shop. We used to talk about discovering dinosaurs together when he was little, now we discuss what he wants to do with his life when he grows up.

I hope it still involves dinosaurs and Legos.