Wilderness walking with the Stowaways

My wife loves to plan out adventures. She’ll plan to leave the house for a trip to Eastern Market on Saturday. So, a week before, she’ll start to organize and plan logistics, figure out what the kids will wear, set aside diapers for Sunshine and a change of clothes for Danger, make sure that she sets aside a shirt that won’t have my gut hanging out from under it (which is harder and harder to do nowadays), and make sure we have a list, map, proper training, and a market-buddy.

I took off with the kids and a wagon, then realized we had no sunscreen, so I found a place that had lots of shade. Who says dad’s can’t plan?! I have a wagon!

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And sunglasses. Couldn’t forget the sunglasses. This photo op was all them, by the way.

So I recalled a park not being far from my house, so I set out in that general direction.. And got lost. So I typed it into my phone, found it, and drove over – wrong park. But, we were here, and they were huge and interesting and had a shaded playground, so we stayed. While the kids threw a half-rotten apple at each other, that they had found under an apple tree, I consulted the map and found a nature trail on the property. It turns out that Heritage park (http://fhgov.com/Activities/Parks-Facilities/Heritage-Park.aspx) was a good pic after all! After I grabbed Danger as he was trying to recreate some Isaac Newton on Sunshine’s head, we loaded back into the car and drove over to go for a walk (irony intended). We unloaded and proceeded.

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I know it has been a theme before, but I feel guilty about my children missing out on a lot of the opportunities that I had. We were booted out of the house early in the morning with a machete and a dusting of fly spray, and showed up again that night. We lived in the middle of the woods with swamps, animals, rusted cars, rivers, and other random litter-azi filling the landscape. My kids live in one of the top 10 largest cities in Michigan, have a backyard the size of a postage stamp, and think ‘foraging’ means raiding the cupboard if they get up before I do. So I am attempting to teach them about life in the woods. Forget that ‘Salt Life’ nonsense, Pine Life for the win.

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What you can barely see in the picture is a Whitetail doe. We came up to a crabapple tree. I kept the lecture small, I didn’t discuss apple-whipping but I did bring up waiting until after the first frost to eat one. It went without saying that you REALLY don’t eat 20 of them in one sitting, or you will know every knot on the crapper door by the time you recover. Who says I didn’t learn anything as a child?! Peeking through the leaves was a deer!IMG_1308

Next, some snails. My kids had never seen one outside an aquarium before, and Danger was quite surprise to see that they were nowhere near water. Yes, son, the media lies to you.

I didn’t realize it, but I had started a mantra at this point. Sunshine wanted to hold it, and she wanted to touch and hold everything, which I applauded but always cushioned it with a warning. By the time we found the slugs, her question was always “dada, I hold? I no eat.” You laugh, but she needed to be reminded.

We did accomplish a little foraging. We found some raspberries. We saw some chokecherries as well – I was always told they weren’t good (the name alone suggests a certain amount of heck-no) but In Latvia, they leave it on the plate as an edible garnish. This didn’t seem like the time to start.

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We then went off-grid. We hopped out of the wagon and walked over to a small stream meandering through the woods. We paused for a photo session, but Danger was being crazy and Sunshine wasn’t impressed by how much the tree was swaying.IMG_1312

IMG_1314We found another tree crossing the water, so another photo op. Danger decided that it was a bridge, and asked me to cross it. Since I know how quick I can turn a bridge into a submarine (it’s not magic, it’s that jerk called gravity), I told him to go ahead. We had to pose for pictures first, which was interrupted by Sunshine checking a knothole out to see if any turtles were emerging.IMG_1315IMG_1317

We decided to press and come back to the bridge, as I wanted to deal with wet clothes after the exploring, not before. We found a toad! Sunshine was glad it was just a toad. Up until now, everything that moved was “AH! ‘NAKE!” My shoelaces had been AH NAKE! about 10 times, as was random branches, the slug, a snapping turtle who had heard them crashing through teh woods and took off underwater, and her brother, about 15 times. So, the rustling in the grass wasn’t a snake, but was instead a slightly confused toad. “Oooh, toad! I hode, I no eat?”IMG_1319

On the way back from our off-road excursion, I authorized traversing the 10 foot stream via the fallen log. IMG_1320

Yup, made it about that far. Good on him for trying though!

A little further on, and we saw fawns! I’m sure most of you know, mother deer (probably the ones we saw) will leave their fawns alone for the day and go browse, which was probably what happened to these little guys that you can barely, if at all, see in my picture. They were tiny little dudes, they couldn’t have been more than a few months old. The kids got to see them, and we crept pretty close to check them out.

One thing that amazed me – this was a Saturday morning on a popular trail. It was a little over a mile in length, and shaded (Had we gone fishing, I always have spray in the creel. Oh well), so it was a pretty popular spot to hike, jog, or just walk. And so everyone but us passed stuff like this by! Baby fawns, and they didn’t even notice! Snapping turtle, bigger than a trash can lid, just swimming under a bridge while a power walker, fists pumping and much the same expression as the turtle, just pounded right by above his head. So many people were out on the trail, and so few saw the trail. It was pretty amazing.IMG_1322

Look up, right about heeeeeere |IMG_1324

That was enough fauna, lets get to the flora. When I was a kid, we knew exactly what we could and couldn’t eat in the woods. I’ve shared a raspberry patch with a bear before, no one argued as there were plenty of berries for the both of us. Alpine strawberries, blueberries, hazelnuts (learned real quick that you don’t touch the husks with bare hands), acorns; anything that you could eat without having to go back to the house for lunch, we did eat. I started showing them all the pretty flowers, their names, and what you could do with them (although to be honest, other than shining a buttercup under Danger’s face to see it turn yellow, I was pretty tapped out on woodland knowledge).IMG_1327

Pine cone!IMG_1328Birch bark! Funny side story – Mike Oscar and I used to work at a wilderness camp for kids. At the end of the week, he would tear off a few pieces of birchbark off a few trees, and write a little award on the piece and give it to each kid. Ranger award for someone who could do everything, MVP award, stuff like that. We had one troublesome camper who just made our lives miserable and wrapped the whole week around herself (as opposed to the one staunch camper who won hide and seek by hiding in the deep grass. “I knew you would never look for me there because you know I’m allergic to grass!” she wheezed out while we dabbed lotion on the welts on her exposed skin. Um, good job?), so it was difficult to find a meaningful award to give. Mike Oscar  suggested the Donner Party award.

“If we were snowed in on a mountain pass, we’d eat her first.”

True enuff.

After finishing the walk with stories of all you could do with a good piece of birchbark, we made our way back to the car. I’m sure the kids promptly forgot 100% of the knowledge I’d attempted to pass on to them. They liked the camp robber jay we saw, but they were uninterested in how easy it was to lure one to your hand.

What I hope they will remember, is that it’s a pretty big world out there, and that you’ll find some answers in the woods.

The woods are more than just trees, and there is a little pine sap in their blood.

Keep your head on straight, mom and dad will be back to take care of you.

Don’t eat the slugs.

 

 

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