I cannot tell a lie: When it came time, at the end of yesterday’s adventure in the woods, to go around the circle and share what we were grateful for, I said I was grateful that no one had licked any slugs. When one of the guides shot me kind of a funny look, I added, “Um… at least as far as I’m aware…?” (I’m available for parties, people!)
At one point we came to a broad, shallow spot in a creek where there were lots of flat rocks rising up out of the middle of the water, and—being as how it’s the middle of February and, therefore, a chilly 76 degrees here in Global Warming Is A Liberal Myth Georgia—the kids were invited to remove their socks and shoes and go wading. Chickadee happily peeled off her footwear, rolled up her jeans, and began following the guide to the opposite bank. Monkey was slower to get his shoes and socks off, then struggled with rolling his pants up, then stepped into the water and promptly declared it too cold.
I would’ve marveled at this difference in my offspring, truly, had I not been so busy laughing myself silly over the fact that several of the other kids in our group had simply taken off their shoes and belly-flopped, full body, fully dressed, into the four available inches of water.
Teresa tried to corral them, sure. But what’s a little mud between friends when your school’s philosophy is pretty much “go get dirty?” One little girl was completely soaked save for her shoes (which were waiting for her up on the rocks), and when directed to get them on so that we could continue, she apparently noticed there was some sand in them. Naturally, the solution to this was to… bring her shoes down to the water and dunk them, too. Heh.
The rest of the day was spent walking, listening, searching for animal tracks, and realizing exactly how much of an outdoor person I’m really NOT. Don’t get me wrong: I love that the kids are doing this stuff, and I enjoy going along, but did I ever expect, at 40, to have someone standing there eagerly telling me to “stick your head in that hole there and tell me what you smell!”? Uh, no. (I finally did sniff the hole. It smelled like… dirt. Apparently I was supposed to be able to smell armadillo, but perhaps my nose is impaired from years and years of not sticking it in animal burrows.)
Chickadee commented several times that “this is way more fun than regular school” and “I really like these kids.” That was just what the doctor ordered, methinks. Especially when the aforementioned little wet-shoed girl left her backpack behind and Chickadee said, “Come on, I’ll go with you,” and took her back down the trail to retrieve it. On the way back to catch up with the group, her small charge shyly said, “I wish I had a big sister like you. All I have is a little brother.” (Chickie’s response: “Me, too!”)
She was exhausted at the end of the day, but happy, I think.
There was some talk of… nature names? Apparently some of the kids were given special trail names, or something, last year? This was deeply aggrieving to Monkey, because he wants a nature name, RIGHT NOW, WHAT IS MY NATURE NAME? There was some reassurance that on the next outing they can do names for those who don’t yet have them. (There is a process to this, apparently, which was further annoying to Mr. Literal, because he’d already decided he wanted to be The Viper. I told him that sounded more like a Transformer and less like a nature-dweller, and he was Not Amused.) As we settled into some tall grass under some trees at lunchtime and were cautioned to be as quiet as possible so that we could count the birdcalls and other noises we heard, I doled out food to my kids quietly, while the other children created a cacophony of velcro and lunchbox zippers. This led Teresa to whisper that she wanted to compliment our family on being utterly silent, possibly the quietest lunch-consumers she’d ever encountered, in fact. Both children smiled, pleased, and I held the banana I was eating aloft with a victory pump and shout-whispered, “THAT’S IT! THAT’S MY NATURE NAME! SILENT BANANA!”
Things were not so silent after that. Sometimes you can’t take me anywhere.
It was bittersweet when we broke the final circle of the day and headed back to the parking area. Sometimes I wish we could take those few unfettered hours home with us, somehow, and extend that suspended-in-time-and-wilderness feeling beyond afternoon.
WELL. Turns out, I got my wish. We DID take our outing home with us! We returned to the house, finished readying for a colleague whom Otto was bringing home for dinner, and then while I was futzing around in the kitchen, I reached over to scratch my shoulder and felt something weird. I stuck my hand under my shirt and extracted what I’d expected to be a pine needle or other bit of forest detritus, but was, in fact, a giant tick.
Being the mature, calm adult I am, I screamed and hurled it across the kitchen. Licorice and Chickadee (both in the kitchen with me) were very concerned.
I regained my composure shortly after 1) screaming “ACK ACK ACK ACK!” and 2) locating the tick on the kitchen floor, pulverizing it, and washing it down the drain.
While setting the table for dinner, I grabbed a second one off of my leg. This time I merely muttered. Progress!
So we passed the evening as you do, when you have a guest for dinner—in animated conversation, enjoying a good meal, and me not-so-surreptitiously pulling at the children’s clothing, checking them for bugs. Everyone had a shower before bed, and of course I burned everything we’d been wearing.
Nature, man. It giveth, and it rideth home with you.