I usually find a measure of restoration while walking alone through the woods. Watching grass bend in a spring breeze or bow under the weight of snow soothes my anxieties. The rustle of leaves or a rippling brook, the cries of crows or the sight of a fox, all these things quiet unsettled parts in me.
Taking a stroll through the woods is an entirely different thing when I take my children.
Don’t get me wrong: I love taking my kids out to the nature parks nearby. I think it’s much better for them than simply going to some plastic and metal structure with a passel of poorly behaved strangers. Not that all other kids are poorly behaved and my kids never are! Kids are, after all, human, with foibles and tempers.
I just happen to think that balancing on fallen trees or looking for crawdads under rocks in a stream is more beneficial than sliding down some plastic slide that was just peed on by the kid whose mom has left a packet’s worth of cigarette butts smoldering next to a picnic table smeared with evil, anaphylaxis inducing peanut butter.
And not that I think there aren’t nasties at nature parks, either. We found what I suspect was a placenta on a trail (though that doesn’t bode well for whatever animal left it) and any number of bizarre, potentially disgusting things. Dead rodents. Evidence of carnivorous behavior. (That is a euphemism for half eaten animals and their feathers and fur, in case I was unclear.) A deceased deer. Scat. (We went on a hike and found scat, which together with the paw prints proved to us that we were following a coyote. Yes, I had borrowed a library book beforehand and made the older kids look up tracks and scat. It might be a little gross, but it’s educational!)
And bones. We’ve never found antlers, but we were on a hike with a naturalist once and found a nice sized deer leg bone. Another time, we found a skull! Probably a fox. I have to say, though, that although the injured and dying mice qualify in my mind as a little nasty, the skull was after all, pretty cool.
Anyway, as I was saying, although the kids seem to enjoy a hike, and I enjoy taking them, it isn’t very restful for me. In addition to feeling like I’m herding cats, it can be exhausting.
For example, although in theory trail running sounds great, I had not intended to try it without any training. That time the four year old took off, shrieking with laughter and tearing up a hill, and I had to high tail it after him? That wasn’t very fun at all. I would highly recommend training up to a mile trail run through the woods up and down steep hills. I was uncomfortable for days. The four year old was fine.
There was that hike about 8 years ago, when they hollered that they’d found a snake, I hollered back to give it room and hurried up. They had indeed found one. It was a black rat snake, at least four feet long, moseying its way across the trail. They had given it plenty of room, and we let it go in peace. This past spring, we found a tiny snake. The boys sat on their heels several paces back, and we watched it go its way. Not bad, just a little nerve wracking.
It just wasn’t restful when the four year old held up a mangled wad of green leaves and asked, “Mom? Is this poison ivy?”
Nor was it particularly calming when the same kid grabbed a handhold on the aerial roots of poison ivy on a tree and asked, “Mom? Are these plant feathers?”
Especially when I forgot to pack the soap and water for when kids do such things. You’d think I’d learn.
When the teenager managed to twist an ankle while jumping off a rock into a creek, it wasn’t great fun either. (She’s fine.)
And when the giant beetle startled a child into blood curdling screams, and I had to prove things were okay by letting it crawl on me, it did not soothe my nerves. The spiders? That was worse.
All that being said, it might not be soothing, but it is completely worth it. Seeing them captivated by an orb web covered in dew, hearing them belly laugh as they plunk down into a stream with a splash, smelling the wildflowers they discovered. It more than compensates for the exhaustion and the occasionally stomach knots. I hope that it carries over, and some day, they’ll walk alone in the woods, comfortable and at peace.
Without wadding up any poison ivy.