Northern Wilds February 2017

Page 18

Memorable Dates

The good, the bad and the romantic

Temples and Trees By Eric Chandler

I was at the outer edge of the empire along the shore of the Yellow Sea. I had an awful head cold, but I still went to the party. And there she was: the young U.S. Air Force captain with brown hair that I kept crossing paths with. Like me, she was stationed at Kunsan Air Base on the west side of the Korean peninsula. I drank enough liquid courage at the party to ask her out. I suggested a road trip the next day. She agreed.

Mom and baby reunited post-date and no worse for wear, ­thanks to babysitters Grandma and Grandpa. | MAREN WEBB

Parents’ First Date

I decided on Byeonson-bando National Park, located on a mountainous peninsula just across the bay, south of the air base. In the boldest (or stupidest) first date move ever, I invited her to sit in the black ’86 GMC S-15 pickup that Uncle Sam let me bring across the Pacific. It had a cracked exhaust manifold that made it bang and smell like a diesel. We drove south under a late-fall overcast and I tried to keep snot from running down my face. We drove through the scenic mountains and stumbled onto the Naesosa Temple. On the way to the entrance, we walked past a dangsan tree; a sacred tree, often seen as a village guardian. This yelkova serrata (or Japanese elm) was over 500 years old. It was known as the Dangsan Grandfather. We passed the gate and walked along the path, lined on both sides by mature fir trees, like a dark, green tunnel. The firs ended after a quarter mile and cherry trees then lined the path. Snow started spitting out of the sky. We were almost the only people there. We passed through the inner gate and saw the massive Dangsan Grandmother. This yelkova tree was 1,000 years old. We passed some more buildings and shrines until we found the Main Buddha Hall of the temple. Shelley, who I barely knew, climbed the steps and I took her picture. Steep mountains and snow surrounded us. The original temple was built in 633 A.D. It was burned by the invading Japanese in the late 1500s and rebuilt in 1633. The Main Buddha Hall was made entirely with wood. No nails. The Dangsan Grandmother and Grandfather trees stood guard over the Temple as the centuries swept by. I found an Asian Philosophy text that said, “The holy trees almost always stand in pairs, as 18



By Maren Webb

People tell you that your life will change; “enjoy sleep while you can,” they say. They encourage you to take care of yourself and your marriage. And to get out on a date once in a while.

Shelley at the Main Buddha Hall, Naesosa Temple in Korea, 1994. | ERIC CHANDLER evidenced in the tree of grandmother (halmang dangsan) and grandfather (halbae dangsan). These two trees symbolically emphasize harmony and balance between the masculine and feminine principles, Yang and Yin, rather than suggest the idea of a center.” Twenty-two years after that first date, I sometimes find myself outside with that same brownhaired lady, surrounded by hills in the falling snow. I like to imagine any harmony and balance we have coming from those Naesosa Temple trees. But mostly, from Grandmother. She had to be patient 500 years longer than Grandfather. Almost as patient as Shelley is with me.

Yes, this is the advice that you get before having children. And from what I can tell so far, it’s good advice. So, my spouse and I decided that as parents of a twomonth-old, it was time for us to go on our first date as parents. We went to brunch at the Vanilla Bean restaurant in Two Harbors. We’ve all seen this scenario on TV and in the movies; the parents go out to eat, but the whole time they are fixated on whether the kids are ok at home and struggling to not call the babysitter. In our case, it probably helped that the babysitters were Grandma and Grandpa and we were less than 10 minutes away. While our date was phone call and (mostly) worry free, our phones were on and our daughter definitely came up in conversa-

tion more than once. But, I think that’s how it is meant to be. Life changed the moment we became parents, for the better. Just as date night changed when we went from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife. Our lives will never be the same now that we have a beautiful daughter to think about and whom we’ll enjoy new experiences. Date night may become less common, but we’re learning from friends on how to make it happen; great ideas like having at-home dates after the kids go to bed and having a babysitter on retainer one night a week. I expect that in the future we’ll also be marking our calendars with the local YMCA’s Parents Night Out dates and calling up the grandparents to babysit. While date night may never look the same, I couldn’t be more thankful for the reason why.