Songs My Mom Used to Sing

My Mom used to sing these songs to me when I was a little kid. Most of the time she would sing them to me at bedtime. I think it is so important to either read to children or sing songs with them at bedtime. Whenever we babysit our nieces and nephews, Karma and I will read to them at bedtime. If we ever have any of our own children, I will make it a point to read and sing to them. The songs that my Mom used to sing to me go something like this:

“Sing….Sing a song….Sing out Loud…Make it simple…. to last your whole life long….don’t worry if it’s not good enough….for anyone else to hear….just sing….sing a song.”

I loved this song because it has always made me feel like I could do anything and that I should never be afraid to express myself.

Some other songs she used to sing to me were what we called “The Fishy Song” and the “Pufferbelly” song.

"Over in the meadow in a little bitty pool, swims three little fishies and a momma fishy too. Swim said the momma, swim if you can, and they swam and they swam right over the dam. Boop Boop bittum and a bottom shoe, Boop Boop bittum and a bottom shoe, and they swam and they swam right over the dam. Yeah!"

"Over at the station, early in the morning, see the little pufferbellies all in a row. See the stationmaster pull the little handle. Puff, Puff, toot, toot, off they go. Puff, Puff, toot, toot, off they go."

More than anything, these songs remind me that I am loved and that I have been very lucky.  They also remind me of the power of song and that we should sing to each other more often.

~Tad Jones

Two Feet First

I have always been one to jump into things with both feet but as I am getting older I find myself testing the water a little more before taking the plunge. When I began whitewater kayaking back in the mid 1980s I didn’t know how to roll my kayak back up for the first few years of my paddling career.

Tad Jones & Jamie Laidlaw Learning to Kayak

Whenever I would get turned over, I would pull my spray skirt and swim to shore with my paddle and boat. I figured I was no worse off than my parents who were good whitewater canoeists. If they capsized their boat, it was just expected that they would swim to shore and empty their boat and then be back on the water within a matter of minutes. Eventually this got very old in a kayak and was greatly reducing the fun factor.

Tad Jones Running an Oar Rig in Ruby Rapid | Main Salmon River

My first roll was not in a flat water pond or swimming pool like you might expect. I was on a six day river trip on the Main Salmon River, also named the “River of No Return” with my family in an old “infinity” kayak. The kayak was very long by today’s standards and was designed by Judson Zenzic and Ed Roper of McCall. It was narrower than a typical kayak with high side rails which, combined with a displacement hull, made the boat great for catching fast glossy waves. The drawback to the design was that the high rails also made the boat feel very unstable unless it was up on edge.

Tad Jones | Testing out a New Kayak | Spring Boating in McCall, Idaho

On the first day of the trip I flipped over in a hole. I was getting tossed about in the hole and really did not want to swim so I gave a roll a try. I popped right back up and wondered why it had been so difficult in the past. After that I practiced the roll until I could do it without a paddle and started enjoying kayaking much more. I initially learned what is called a “rodeo style roll” or “classic roll” where the boater starts with their body over the front of the boat and as the roll is completed the body ends up lying on the back of the boat. The problem with this roll is that if the boater rolls upside down again he has to go through the entire set up process and this roll also exposes the body and face to the bottom of the river. I later learned what is called the “C to C”, which is now the standard roll and a bit safer. Sometimes when I roll back up, even now, I will find myself on the back of my boat. The subconscious mind is a strong thing and old habits are hard to break.

During my college days at the University of Idaho I lived in a house with some other Architecture students. One of my roommates was Chris Amonson and he was an avid outdoorsman. We both developed an interest in rock climbing at about the same time. One of our other friends in the Architecture program named Rob Church also started climbing with us.

Chris Amonson | Climbing in the Early Days

We got our gear from a guy that had a single wide trailer out by Paradise Creek. He had taken a portion of his trailer and turned it into a little climbing shop. We bought a couple instruction books and some minimal gear. The University had recently converted one of the racquetball courts in Memorial Gym into a rock climbing gym. We practiced developing our technique in the gym. We would top rope the different routes and practice our moves on a short wall traverse. It was a good form of meditation. It became a great way to relax after stressful Architecture critiques.

Tad Jones | Climbing in the Early Days

At one point we entered a climbing competition and I won a backpack. The brand name of the pack was “Sundog” and later I would walk to class with my border collie puppy named “BoBeau” in the backpack. He would stick his head out of the pack and rest it on my shoulder. I also took him downhill skiing and cross country skiing in the pack until he got too big to tote around in the backpack.

Tad Jones | Climbing at Wa Wai

While practicing at the gym, I met another climber that sold me one of his old ropes for $30. He indicated that the rope had quite a few lead falls on it and that we should use it only for top roping. After procuring the rope, Chris, Rob and I promptly drove to some cliffs above the Snake River past Pullman called Wa Wai. It was our first time on “real” rock. We later would use the rope for protection while climbing buildings on the University of Idaho Campus. We climbed the back side of Art & Architecture South up into a nook under an arch. To our surprise there were names of many previous students etched into the masonry with the dates of their visits as well.

Art & Architecture South | University of Idaho

Chris had a friend that owned a paraglider and was going to be out of town for a few weeks. He lent Chris the paraglider and a small parachute. After class, Chris, Rob, and I would take the paraglider out to the rolling Palouse hills and lay the paraglider out behind us. We would get a good run and glide off the tops of the hills. We would glide about twenty to thirty feet off the ground and the feeling was absolutely exhilarating! I remember Chris being the first to try it. He had experimented with paragliders in the past and may have even had some instruction. I was nominated to go next as I was also training for my private pilot’s license at the time and it was thought that my newly acquired knowledge of aerodynamics might prove helpful. On one “sledride”, as we called those first flights, I was lifted a bit higher than anticipated by a gust of wind and I floated much further down to the bottom of a gully. In the bottom of the gully was a barbed wire fence and fence posts. I lifted my legs up to my stomach to just clear the fence and landed in the field beyond.

Chris Amonson Learning to Fly © Chris Amonson

After practicing for about a week I woke up early on a Saturday morning thinking of bigger ideas. I went to Chris’ room and shook him awake. “Let’s go fly at Steptoe” I told him. Steptoe Butte is a large butte that rises out of the Palouse. It is said to be the top of a quartzite mountain extending deep into the earth. The surrounding fertile land was deposited around the mountain’s base during the Missoula Flood. The butte rises 3,612 feet above the surrounding sea of patchwork farms.

Steptoe Butte

We were excited to get the day started and we arrived at the top of the butte well before sunrise so we decided to take a nap until the sun came up. While asleep a fighter jet buzzed the butte startling us to consciousness. Later I would find out that the butte is actually on a military flight route. As the sun began to rise we picked two straws of grass & Chris held them in his hand. I chose one. Chris opened his hand and I had drawn the short straw.

We laid the paraglider out on the edge of the butte facing the wind. There were cows grazing on the butte next to us. I got harnessed up and put my kayak helmet on for some protection. We still had not figured out how to use the safety parachute, but I strapped it onto my body anyway, figuring if something did happen I would have a few seconds to try figure out how to open the chute.

Facing backward to the direction I would fly, I pulled on the chords much like lifting a kite into the air. The chute filled with air and began to take flight. As the tension in the lines increased it lifted me free from the ground and I spun around to face the wind. The next thing I knew I was looking down at a cow staring up at me and the cow was getting smaller. The wind was lifting me up from the launch site as it was being deflected off the face of the butte and being sent skyward. There is a radio tower on top of the butte and I remember being afraid of being blown back into the tower. As I realized I was moving forward and away from the butte and the tower these thoughts subsided. Then it began to occur to me that I was gaining altitude and had thoughts of blowing across mountain ranges and ending up somewhere in Montana. As I flew further away from the butte, I realized it was not thermal action, but instead the bending of the wind over the butte and I settled into a nice glide out towards the fields beyond.

© Chris Amonson

It was one of the most surreal feelings I have ever had. The wind was actually quite loud through the holes in the kayak helmet, but the feeling of freedom has never been matched. I floated well above the farmland and over some power lines below. As I came in for a landing in a field I realized I was dropping altitude faster than I was comfortable with and realized I did not have the glider faced directly into the wind. As the ground rushed toward me, I tried to turn the paraglider to face more closely into the wind. I ran out of time and elevation and landed almost ninety degrees to the wind and landed hard. My legs couldn’t keep up with my velocity and I began rolling on the ground being tangled in the lines. The strong crosswind was keeping the canopy inflated and pulled me for quite a distance across the field before finally deflating and coming to rest.

Chris drove my jeep down off the butte and stopped on a road near to where I had landed. I gathered up the canopy and began the walk over to the jeep. We had a good laugh about my “graceful” landing and it was Chris’ turn next.

© Chris Amonson

We headed back to the top and laid the canopy out on the ground. We got Chris in the harness seat and put on the kayak helmet. Just a couple tugs on the lines and he was off. Chris took off flying directly into the wind and watching him seemed much more graceful than the terrifying images that had gone through my mind when I was in the same situation. I wondered if my takeoff had looked that graceful to the observer.

© Chris Amonson

Chris flew in a much different direction than I had. He flew much further and more directly into the wind. I watched him until he landed and then I got in my jeep and drove to a road near his landing area. It was an exhilarating day, but one that I would never again try to repeat without proper training. Today there are designated schools that teach proper techniques for paragliding and there are a series of endorsements and licenses. I believe there were a handful of paragliding schools back then, but we were just a couple of kids that somehow ended up with an amazing flying invention for a few days.

© Chris Amonson

The experience now reminds me that wisdom comes with age. It also reminds me that with age comes a reluctance to try new things. It is a struggle to balance that reluctance with a willingness to explore new activities and set new personal limits. I also believe that to experience life to its fullest requires at least a little bit of reckless abandon.

That was my last experience with a paraglider. I think I scared myself pretty well that day flying off that quartzite mountain rising above the Palouse. I realize how lucky we were to escape injury that beautiful morning. Chris went on to receive proper training and has continued his paragliding career and has become an accomplished paraglider pilot. I have stuck to flying machines with engines, but I often revisit the memory of gliding like a bird without the use of a reciprocating engine. The paraglider pilot must be intensely aware of the weather and the wind patterns and direction. Paragliding provides an uncompromised connection with nature that is reaffirmed by the feeling of the wind on your face and the ground many thousands of feet below.

~Tad Jones

Lake Kathryn and the "X" on Reward Peak

Something that my Dad said to me the other day keeps resonating in my mind. I showed him this photograph of Lake Kathryn that I took this summer when Karma and I hiked up there.

From 2009 Lake Kathryn

He looked at the photo and said,…”Look, you can see the “X” on Reward Peak”. Maybe it is just the whole ““X” marks the spot” thing….but it must have some significance to him. One of the only times I have seen my Dad cry was when we went up there together when I was a kid. I think I was about 10 years old…maybe younger. I remember feeling the pain that he felt, thinking of the Lake being named after his Mom, and I knew he was remembering how she died & what they must have had to endure. I wanted so badly for him to wash that out of his memory and concentrate on all the good times he had shared with family in the Sawtooths & how proud that Grandaddy was when the Lake was named after Grandma Kathryn. I wanted so much for Dad to turn his mindset 180 degrees and think about how lucky we are to be living this incredible life. I think it was one of the only times we were really ever so close. I remember breaking into tears too, just sitting there on a log next to the Lake with him and crying. It was very strange. I remember my Mom being there and asking me why I was crying and then telling me that it was because I was so sensitive to other people’s emotions. Now I know that “Empathy” is the word used to describe it.

Anyway, now I find myself writing this…I just woke up out of a deep sleep & had the image of the “X” in my mind, so I thought I would write it down. I am going to hike back up to the Lake this summer. I hadn’t been back to Lake Kathryn for so long, almost 30 years, because I was afraid to re-confront the emotions of that day. It’s funny when you think about all the things I have done in my life that have had a significant element of risk…running rivers…backcountry skiing…rock climbing…flying aerobatics…etc. Up until this summer, if you were to ask me the one thing I have been afraid of, it would have been the idea of feeling the emotion of that day over again.

When we were up there this summer I sat on the same log. I didn’t feel any of those same emotions. Instead, the sun broke through the clouds on that rainy day, long enough for me to take this photo; then I stripped down and jumped into the freezing cold water. It felt like a baptism of sorts. I would like to say that it washed away any negative energy from my life, but it didn’t. What it did do, was give me a bit of clarity. A deeper insight that life is what it is, that you do the best you can with what you have, and learn from every experience. It reaffirmed in my mind that we should celebrate each day with a positive attitude and that we should live life’s moments to their fullest…each day of our life is a very precious gift.

~Tad Jones