Hiking with a 3-year-old can be an enchanting experience. To see the world through young eyes
is one of those priceless gifts children give their elders.
It can also be a royal
pain in the you-know-where. Young children have been known to act like walking is a violation of their constitutional, if
not their human, rights.
Recently I stuffed
a couple of apples and a small water bottle in my coat pocket and set off with my 3-year-old daughter Maisha on a misty weekday
to climb Mount Toby in Sunderland.
Maisha is at that age
when she knows full well that I can carry her on my shoulders but she's also heavy enough so that I'd rather not. She has
a very sophisticated sense of the cost-benefit analysis that takes place in my mind around the issue of making her walk.
Exactly how much whining
will I endure in order to be unencumbered by her weight?
Put another way, at
what point will I opt for a peaceful walk in nature with a happy child hoisted above my back?
But I was the adult
here and should be able to control the situation. Right?
On the other hand this
was to be a special day with Daddy and I certainly didn't want her having life-long associations between hiking, grumbling
and wars of wills. So I decided to forge a compromise - as close to my terms as possible.
My peace plan had the
added benefit of instilling a sense of joy and wonder about nature. Walking was to be a game of discovery at every turn.
The seemingly mundane
things to adult eyes were to become objects of mystery and study. Requests to be carried would be met with a cheerful "sure"
and a commitment on her part to say "Yes, daddy" when told it was time to walk again.
For how long could
I engage her on the ground before she remembered that she was "tooooo tired" to walk?
My knowledge of nature
isn't exactly what you would call encyclopedic. But I can identify acorns, puffballs and fern, and I can distinguish birch,
oak, and maple trees. I also know the difference between a mushroom, moss and a spider's web.
All this is mighty
impressive stuff to a tot.
I figure if I can impart
my limited knowledge to her at this age then at least she won't have to start from scratch when she finds better informed
teachers later on.
I've always wished
I could name more of the things that surround us. Naming the few things within my ken soon extended itself other forms of
appreciating nature. We crumpled up winterberries and investigated the smell, and then put our noses to different kinds of
bark and several leaves we came across. Rubbing rocks together yielded a distinctive odor.
Then we shut our eyes
tight and counted how many different sounds we could make out. Birds, a brook, trucks gearing down on Route 63 and squirrels
rustling in the brush.
Maisha was the first
one to spot a small frog, which she grabbed and handled mercilessly until I convinced her to put it down. Worms and bugs,
some with black shells seemingly inscribed with rainbows, crawled beneath rocks we overturned.
And then there were
the spider's webs. I was visibly annoyed when her first instinct was to destroy an exquisitely crafted array of fine fibers
woven together and supporting hundreds of dew droplets sparkling in the low angles of the midmorning sun. What was she thinking?
I guess I identified
with that spider and his lost labors. A giant three-year-old erasing hours of work with one swoop would be like someone pulling
the plug on my word processor before I hit the save button.
Eventually the urge
to be carried kicked in, forcing me to try harder and harder to spot wondrous things in desperate need of investigation. I
have to admit to exclaiming "WOW, look at that" several times while fixing my gaze about 20 feet up the trail not really knowing
what I was looking at. I then had to scramble to spot an artifact to justify the excitement in my voice.
Herein was a lesson.
I was able without fail to find some little or big thing to remark and elaborate upon.
I learned that if you
open your eyes and your mind wide enough, no matter where you look, there's always something special to behold. It might be
something as simple as the vein pattern on a leaf' or the way the pieces of a crushed leaf fall to the ground or the shadow
cast by a spider dangling from a branch overhead.
An upended tree with
the root system exposed can stretch the attention span even of a young child when you look for all the signs of living things
that once dwelt there.
When all else fails
you invent games to maintain forward motion. Collecting pine cones or acorns is always a good one. Who can find ten acorns
Then try explaining
that an acorn is the beginning of those huge oak trees they always seem to be found under. They're also food for squirrels
that gather them up and squirrel them away for winter.
No wonder kids think
adults know absolutely everything - no one could make up such fantastic stories.
Guessing how many daddy-steps
or how many Maisha-steps it's going to take to reach that boulder up yonder is a good trick for as long as you can get away
We got to the top of
Mount Toby and I would say Maisha walked at least 55 percent of the way. We climbed up the fire tower and wedged ourselves
into the stairwell under the locked trap door at the top. With Maisha firmly nestled between my knees we looked down through
the thin clouds at the Connecticut River snaking through fields dotted with tobacco barns.
We got to look at oaks
from another angle. On the way down Maisha walked fully 80 percent of the way. We each gave and we got all the way.
She tapped into my
meager knowledge of nature's nomenclature. But I got the better deal. My eyes got to see world through new lenses. Maisha
may have learned things she didn't know, but I got to see things I had only looked at before.