We took the kids on a hike a few weeks ago, a five-kilometre loop through the woods on what turned out to be the last mild weekend of the fall. Well, mild-ish: the leaves were mostly down, the marsh and puddles covered with thin skins of ice, and I was glad for my hat.
We’re not quite as outdoorsy as my idealized version of my family is. When I was pregnant with Rowan, I devoted a ridiculous amount of energy to finding just the right baby backpack hiker on eBay, imagining me and Rachel meandering outdoorsily through the boreal forest with a snoozing baby on my back. But the carrier hurt my shoulders and the baby never really slept and we used it maybe a half-dozen times before selling it to some other idealistic mother-to-be on kijiji.
Still, now that we have two mobile children, we’re getting better at packing them into the car and insisting, over their protests, that we are going on a walk. In nature. Goddammit. Because this is what we do; we will get out there and march around the forest. And we will like it. And even though they are often disgruntled in the car, every time we release them onto the trails, they are happy and engaged and it’s always worth it. Even if we have to feed them mini M&Ms at regular intervals as part of the deal.
This particular hike, though, Rachel and I were — how shall I put this? — a wee bit grouchy. We’d arrived in the woods a bit later than planned, because the kids started playing with the neighbour kids in the driveway and one thing led to another and we were a bit concerned about getting stuck in the woods in the dark and dying slow, cold deaths. You know. Also, perhaps the effort of finally rounding them up and shoving them into booster seats had left us a bit grim, a mood that seemed difficult to shake in the fading light.
What we lacked in good cheer, though, we more than made up for in determination.
And so we rushed them along, worried, the worry translating into frustration with these two boys in their red and blue winter jackets who wanted to bash open skins of ice with great long sticks and wander and dawdle and carry fallen saplings and yell into the echoing trees and point out every mushroom and talk about fairy houses. In other words, they were on a nature walk, while we were fleeing the Nazis over the Swiss Alps in some kind of forced Gulag march for our lives (yes, I am mixing metaphors and desecrating the image of The Sound of Music). I swear I may have told Rowan to use “an inside voice.”
Fortunately, somehow, we managed to pull it together and come to our senses. Rather than grousing at Rowan to be careful about tripping me up with the 20-foot stick he insisted on dragging through the woods, I finally let him go ahead, trying to breathe as I watched him pretend to kayak, totally at home in his surroundings. And as Isaac begged and begged to smash the ice on each puddle I did a small double take and called out to Rachel, “Bashing the ice is the most exciting thing in the world to him.”
“Oh my God,” she breathed. “It is.”
And so,for the final third of the walk, we actually managed to stop chivvying them along. I held on to Isaac’s coat so he wouldn’t fall through the thin ice into the marsh as he whacked and whacked and whacked at it, blissful, making his difference in this vast world. We piggybacked, handed out M&Ms, watched the blue child and the red child do what we’d actually meant for them to do all along: be happy outdoors.
And then, at the very end of the hike, just before getting back to the car, we saw a beaver. A real beaver, sitting placidly in the midst of a little bog, chewing away on some wood, calm as could be. Like a little reward, or maybe a reminder: chillax, ladies. Enjoy the show.