My nephews love the woods. Past hiking trips last summer and fall were highly successful outings – and, being outdoors kills time that I would otherwise spend tuning out SpongeBob or getting trounced at the Wii game of the day. Also, I hope the boys are developing their appreciation for nature, which will serve them for a lifetime.
It must be working.
When I agreed to take them for an afternoon during their recent spring break, they had one request: hiking in the woods. Binoculars from Grandma and new hiking boots from Mommy sealed the deal – all I needed was some cooperation from Mother Nature (who has been a bit testy this spring.) The weather was raw, but dry, so I dressed in layers and picked them up from daycare, where the buzz was all about K. & D.’s aunt taking them to the woods.
There were a few raised eyebrows. “You’re taking both of them?” Honestly, I feel safer taking them to the woods than I would to the mall (which my sister probably wouldn’t allow anyway). The trails at Tinker Park are flat, mulched paths that are raised above and buffered against the natural wetland of the area. It’s quite literally a walk in the park, but to K. & D. it is “The Woods.” They are allowed to run, touch just about anything, and can make noise as long as they don’t sound like banshees. I guess, for little boys, that’s pretty close to heaven.
At ages 6 and 8 they are no longer so high maintenance, so when they decide in the car that they don’t want to carry their water bottles, I say, “Well, take a long drink now, because I’m not carrying them.” (If it were summer and we had backpacks, I would have insisted that everyone carry their own water. Compliance seems to follow if I tell them, in anything related to hiking, “That’s how it’s done.”)
We spend TWO HOURS hiking a 1.5 mile loop. We see deer tracks and poo, a nesting Great Horned Owl (I do, not sure if they really do), hear courting robins and territorial woodpeckers, and then scoop mud and leaf muck out of the swamp with a stick. We’re out there so long that I have to administer an inhaler (scheduled), and dodge the stream of, uh, the same boy’s “relief.” (AGAINST THE TREE, D.!!)
K. and D. are becoming nature lovers. They choose and discard downed branches looking for good walking sticks, that they then leave at the trailhead for the next hiker to use. They learn that a Canadian Goose needs a wide berth and does not want to be fed a weed (“I told you so that they hiss and chase!”)
All they did was walk continuously through an admittedly gray, early spring wood. No flowers, no green leaves, and very few birds. They did not once complain that they were bored or ask to leave. In fact, it was me who wrapped up the trek, not being equipped for outdoor “relief.”
I tell them about hiking in the Adirondacks, where their Uncle and I will hike all day, eat lunch on the trail, continuously climb over boulders, and reach a mountaintop where we can see for miles. I tell them that, someday, we will take them with us.
“We’ll go to the top of a mountain?” asks K., while D. just stares into space, trying to process it.
“Yes,” I say, “we’ll hike all day, and we’ll probably get tired, but we will get to the top of a mountain.”
Maybe they will carry my water for me.