It was really too cold to be outside, but Christian appealed to a higher authority. “Alex,” he said, “do you want Mommy to take you for a walk in the woods?”
Before I had time to groan, Alex leaped up off the couch and shouted, “YEAH!”
So it was that at 10:30 on Monday morning, I found myself down at the creek with my son, despite the temperature (around 20) and the crisp breeze.
I try to take the kids on “nature walks” fairly regularly. Growing up, I had 13 acres of nature right outside my door—a Heaven of ponds, woods, pasture, lawn, garden and cultivated cropland. My kids share the same acreage with two dozen neighbors. So we have to make opportunities to touch nature. I would have done this anyway, but about year ago I read a book that solidified my resolve. It’s called Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, and it details how humans are biologically “wired” to need nature. It’s dense reading, but worthwhile. One of my favorite gems is a study he quotes saying that a twenty-minute walk in nature does as much as medication for kids with ADHD.
It’s the hands-on, tactile experience of nature—not the distant, admire-but-don’t-feed-the chipmunks kind of conservation, that makes the difference. Touching nature is how kids learn to appreciate it. Working in the earth, building a tree house, picking flowers, examining the structure of an anthill.
Thus, nature walks. Alex and I talk about the different trees—which ones drop the walnuts, which have the big leaves, which make acorns and which pine cones. I show him the path of the flash flood visible in the pattern of flattened grass. We look for minnows. For Julianna, it’s all about putting hands in the water and splashing.
But of course in the winter, 7 months pregnant, with hip/SI pain, and having to carry Julianna, my motivation to go out to the woods is pretty low.
Well, at any rate, on Monday we went, sans Julianna. Alex is really into sword fighting lately, so any time we find a stick, it must be picked up. By the time we made it down to the creek, we were carrying nearly a dozen brittle sycamore branches, of varying sizes. I don’t know what they were all for. Sword, shield, and light (like Frodo’s phial); the rest, who knows?
The moment we entered the creek bed, however, nothing would do but throwing rocks, so down went all the sticks. The last time we went down, there was only the thinnest veneer of ice, and only in the perpetual shade of the banks. After last week’s below zero deep freeze, however, almost the whole creek is frozen. Alex was in Heaven; he wanted to break the ice. Most of it was too hard, and the big rocks that he managed to work free of the creek bed skittered across the surface, doing little damage.
But in one spot, the ice looked markedly different—as if snow had frozen. You could hear the water running below it. When the first rock hit, we talked about the difference in the sound, and how that meant there was air underneath. Then he found a weak spot and broke through. We watched the ice turn black from underneath as the water encroached upon it. We must have spent fifteen or twenty minutes in that spot, as his little ears turned steadily redder (I hadn’t realized how cold it was when we went out).
Of course, when we started for home, we had to pick up all the sticks again. He wanted to keep them in the garage, but he already has several there, dating from other excursions. So instead, we found a nice half-rotted log lying beside the path and laid them in the lee of its bulk—ready and waiting for the next adventure in the woods.