“Why do you think they’d name this the La Llorona Trail?” my wife Lala asked me as we stepped out of the minivan.
The moniker did seem an odd choice given that we were about to walk along the Rio Grande with our two children in tow—two children who had always asked that we fast-forward the tale, performed by storyteller Joe Hayes, of the weeping woman who drowned her children to be with the man she loved who, in Jersey Shore fashion, kicked her to the curb.
The night before, at a dinner party, we were told of a father who was still angry at Hayes for coming into his kids’ classes and scaring them with his rendition of the banshee who would steal young’uns if they didn’t eat their peas or quit filling their siblings’ underwear with sand.
It didn’t matter that this man’s children were now in their late 20s: Mention Hayes and you’d have to endure a tirade reminiscent of chair-toting Bobby Knight on the losing end of a rout.
Even though the name of the trail was a tad off-putting, the setting was idyllic: 64 degrees, pale blue skies with wisps of clouds layered across the horizon, and plenty of birdlife along the willow-lined river to spot and miscategorize. All four of us had traveled almost 300 miles south to flee the chilling Santa Fe weather and spend time with each other, away from home improvement projects staring at us like the creepy Geico money stack.
“Look! A red-tailed hawk!” my son London said and, although I’m no John James Audubon, I think, given the color and shape of the tail, he got that one right. We watched the bird circle the bosk, looking for mobile groceries, and I felt this calm feeling wash over me. I had nowhere to be, no students to win over for books void of sensational plots, no DSL hassles at home (damn you, Qwest!), no extended family members’ birthdays to remember (damn you, nieces and nephews!).
The light wind scalloped the surface of the water and the winter sun bathed those little ruffles in gold. I started to say to Lala how lovely it all was when I was interrupted by our 13-year-old daughter Poppy.
“Can we turn around now?” she whined. “I think we’ve gone like two miles.”
“How can you tell?”
“Trail is marked.” She pointed down to a white stripe that noted our mileage. While our gaze was fixed on the sky, hers had been anchored to the ground.
“Fifty more steps,” Lala said casually, employing the same mommified tonality as three more bites of your broccoli, one more season with these snow boots, five more minutes in the park before we have to go home.
“One, two, three,” Poppy and London chanted together and, before Lala and I decided whether the angular bird on the bank was a crane or a heron, the step-counters reached 50.
“A little more,” Lala said, wanting to view the stoic bird from a better angle. Since London has yet to enter the cruel car wash of adolescence, he kept going. Poppy is 13 and, eyeing neither security guards nearby nor Wii games for us to take away, she halted her march. London didn’t notice until he hit 100.
“Poppy owes me 50 steps!” he yelled, shaking his fist at a now laughing sister.
“Really 100 since we have to walk back,” I whispered to Lala.
“I want those 50 steps,” London wailed, scaring into flight the birds we couldn’t name.
“We should call Joe Hayes when we get home,” I said to Lala, watching London cry and kick the brambly ground.
“The weeping woman has transformed into an 8-year-old boy.”
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.
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