Monday, February 25, 2013

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Afternoon

I'm reading a book for review called The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book. It's filled with hundreds of outdoor activities for children. Reading it has fanned nostalgia for my own childhood into flame--the exploring and wandering and discovering we did in a neighborhood tucked up against railroad property. Trees and deer, rabbits and giant spiders abounded. Creeks and other mysteries in the nearby woods kept me and my friends properly entertained for hours. 

Saturday, when Middle was spending the afternoon at Grandpa's house, I took Oldest and Tiny out to Woodpecker Trail by the Coralville Res. I normally do not venture out into snow for fun, but the day was warm as far as snow-cold winter days go. The snow was fairly fresh and the woods were quiet. Oldest, who gets plenty of outdoor time in the neighborhood, was not too keen on leaving the comforts of our warm house and her iPod but I coerced convinced her to come. And luckily we had Tiny's sled, otherwise we'd have been on the trail for hours while the girl waded through eight-tenths of a mile in knee-deep (to Tiny's knees) snow. Our trek was all downhill until the last quarter mile, at which point I had to enlist Oldest to help me pull Tiny in her sled part of the way up a steep incline with snow-covered stairs set at random intervals. We were sweating, and my heart was fluttering faster than it did during my first foray into  Jillian's 30 Day Shred.

I don't want to sell Tiny short, though: the kid has endurance. She insisted on walking different portions of the trail, telling me "I don't need a hand" when I tried to stabilize her on the snow-covered steps.  She was intent on collecting snowballs (i.e. any pre-existing, nature-formed chunk of snow) and stockpiling them in her sled as she tread along with no consciousness of the setting sun, the almost-dinner hour, the lostness we could experience in the dark out on the trail. 

We've been reading Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day a lot at our house.  In it, a young boy named Peter goes out into the world to experience the snow and the things it covers. On every page, Peter takes his time. First with footprints, then with snow angels, then sliding down a hill of snow, then making a snowman, then packing a snowball. His mother is not hurrying him a long; his mother is not even present for these adventures. I could see Tiny channeling Peter on our hike. She'd take one step up the hill to placate my steady stream of urgings, and then she was plopping down into the fresh snow at the sides of the trail.

"I need to make an angel," she'd tell me and wiggle like a beetle on its backside when she tried to get up.  "I need to make a glove," she'd say, pressing her protected hand into the snow and smiling with satisfaction at its impression.

Sometimes Tiny is so caught up, so present, so in the moment. 

It's how we were all those years as children, I suppose.  I have no memories of feeling rushed in the woods because dinner was coming, because the sun was going down, because my mother might be looking for me.  There was only the woods and the trickle of the creek and the corner fence post I used as a lookout, the horse in the field on the other side of the fence and me sitting on my lookout, watching the world sit still. 

I'm alone with this third child of mine quite often when the older are at school or running around the neighborhood unattended.  Her process of taking in the world makes complete sense to her (a step, a snow angel, a glove impression, another step). It slows me down tremendously. But I haven't been fighting it so much these days.  In truth, I enjoy reacquainting myself with a still world.

But the sun does eventually set, so I nudged (and pulled) Tiny onward toward the top of the trail, putting off her request for a snowball fight until we got to the parking lot. With this reward in mind, she soldiered on.

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