From a distance, the five tents appeared to be boulders strewn on a shore alongside the tongue of a frozen river. Adams Glacier was a slow-moving river, always crawling down from the mountain even if its lower edge had been retreating for years. The early morning sun was beginning to heat the air enough that campers could wander about the campsite in only sweatshirts and shorts, and soon sweatshirts would be intolerable. Three children, one with startlingly blond hair, almost white, ran between the tents and the blue ice of the glacier tongue. One adult, tall and lean with short, blond hair watched them, reminding them to let the other adults and the other child sleep. The adults, closely attuned to the sounds of the children, were already stirring.
Every summer for the last four years, the family had camped here for a week, gathering Jim and Vi from Goldendale, Jason and Jon from Seattle with their son JT, Jerry and Lucas from Pasadena by way of their retreat in Goldendale with their son Sam, and North and Annie from Portland with their son Marshall and their daughter Annie-V — for the first two years carried up the mountain on North's back. They set aside careers and lives, cell phones and iPads, because they craved family time together other than for weddings and funerals.
After pulling up stakes on Mt. Adams, in a few days they would all go to Goldendale. Goldendale was the lodestone for all of them, with Vi's and Jim's homes as the center. Vi had sold her farm to Lucas and Jerry, and the two had built a log-and-glass retreat on the north edge of it, letting Vi live in the family home as long as she wanted. Martin's nephew had taken over Martin's duties, so the farm prospered, and the horses that Luke loved so much were well tended.
In the summer, all of the couples would often be there at the same time, but the children would spend almost all of their summer alternating between Vi's and Jim's houses, Lucas's and Jerry's retreat, and the stable where the horses were kept. During the rest of the year, the couples would alternate visits in order to provide company for Vi and Jim. And, Lucas often would seek the solitude of his and Jerry's retreat for concentrating on the math and physics problems that engaged his professional life, while Jerry remained in Pasadena and sculpted while tending to Sam.
Out from one of the three-man tents, two smaller men stood and stretched before hugging and kissing each other.
"Uncle Luke! Uncle Jerry!" the six-year-old blond child screamed while running over to them. Grabbing them both by their hands, he tugged mightily. "Come on! See what we've been building."
The two allowed themselves to be dragged over and around the small boulders and large rocks up to the edge of the ice. They looked over at the blond man as if expecting rescue, but they received only a broad smile before their brother escaped and crawled back into another tent.
Once in the tent, North poked Annie. She issued a complaining moan. "Did I hear Marshall screaming?"
"Oh, yes. Luke and Jerry have the munchkins in tow, so we can enjoy some quality time."
"You're just horny, as always." Annie reached up from her sleeping bag to caress the back of North's head as he dropped beside her. "I do miss the ponytail." She tried to remember when exactly North had stopped being a golden boy and had become a man.
"Quality time?" he asked.
"If you can be a little quiet, yeah. I don't want to gross the Js or Vi out."
"What do you think they're doing?"
At the impromptu playground, Jerry and Luke now watched four kids, including a lively Annie-V, who had spent the night in Vi's tent. One of the boys was chipping ice off the glacier tongue with a big rock, while the other three waited to pick up the large chunks of ice and carry them to the building project at the edge of the lava field. "Sam, be careful! Don't whack JT or Marshall or Annie-V with the rock."
Sam, the tallest of the four children, a dark-haired boy, deeply affronted, looked at his fathers and then went back to pounding on the ice. "Have you taken your meds yet?"
Lucas laughed and told his son, "Yes, Dad. But, thanks for checking."
"You guys need a break?"
The tall, angular, older man with graying hair bent at his waist to touch his toes. Lucas couldn't see Jim without imagining Tom still beside him. Sam, Tom, Martin — all gone. At least the boys had one grandfather with whom they could find refuge against what occasionally seemed to them unreasonable parents. And they had Grandmama Vi, as well. "Don't let them go crazy, please," Lucas said.
"I have a little experience in these matters, and I can't believe I'm hearing that request from you."
"I can't believe it, either," came a voice from Vi's tent.
Lucas and Jerry wandered back to the campsite. They held hands. The laws of physics didn't unravel, and no one fainted at their display of connection. Some years past, Washington had become the first state to pass a marriage-equality statute that survived a referendum. Now the religious fanatics seemed marginalized. Of the campers, three couples were married, one straight and two gay, with all having children.
By the time they reached the tents, Jason and Jonathan had breakfast started. Jerry called to them, "About time you were up."
The Js smiled and shrugged. Jason retorted, "You two just wish you didn't have babysitting duty this morning so you could have gotten some."
Jerry made a face and said, "Eeew, like I really need to imagine you two going at it."
Jim watched as another child from a group of tents north of theirs hesitantly approached the boys. When Marshall finally looked up to see the newcomer, he walked over and said, "Hi, I'm Marshall. Those are my cousins, Sam and JT, and my sister, Annie-V." Then Marshall did something that absolutely surprised the latest arrival — he hugged him.
Jim smiled broadly as he heard Marshall say, "Come on, you can help us."
Looking up at Marshall's spontaneous gesture, Lucas thought, Everything's just as it should be.
Author's note: The editor of both Goldendale series has devoted more time to improving the stories than I had a right to expect. At the end of this road, I am deeply thankful that he was willing to collaborate with me as he has.