A walk in the woods

Yesterday, a milestone was reached in a young man’s life.

We woke up to a sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky painted with only the very faintest streaks of clouds, as if mother nature didn’t want to muddy up such a pretty blue. We’ve turned the corner from the worst heat of summer and the mornings have a slight snap to them, though by midday it is warm enough to prompt a peeling off of layers down to t-shirts and shorts.

We played mini-golf this morning, for the umpteenth time this summer, at a little place just a few blocks away. By car it is a mere 5 minute drive, but we walked it as we usually do, cutting through the ravine and enjoying the dappled shade of the forest and the cheerful burbling of the stream and all the little critters we usually see along the way.

It feels like stepping into another world when we take the ravine path. The start of the path dips down the hill between two houses and behind several others before taking a sharp bend over the creek and turning back on itself, passing behind backyard after backyard, most fenced and hedged and gated so you get only the briefest glimpse of what lies beyond. When you reach that point where the path turns back on itself… that’s where it gets interesting. If you go straight ahead, abandoning the path and forging your own way through tall grasses and past thistles, you find yourself in the lower part of the woods where the creek meets another and the beavers are busy felling massive birch and poplar trees to build their homes. Woodpeckers abound, as do ferns and fiddleheads and chipmunks and more. So much to explore, to climb over and under, to inspect and observe and enjoy. We like the ravine down where the beavers live.

If you choose instead to follow the bend of the path to the other side and then turn right instead of following the path to the left, you’ll find a small trail carved through the bush tight up against the fenced yards. It starts out open, tucked up against fences and full of sunshine and shrubs that gradually give way to trees that close in over your head. The path runs more or less level for a few hundred meters and then dips down the hill into the ravine but on the other side from where the beavers are carving out their homes. It peters out in the woods, a small scrubby patch of hillside with widely spaced trees whose canopies form a solid roof overhead. There’s a geocache hidden in there, and ground spiders who leave their webs everywhere, and if you walk far enough, you’ll come upon a field where you can run through tall grasses and twirl and twirl until you are out of breath and just have to flop down on the ground and watch the clouds for a while.

But if you follow the path around the bend and to the left, which was the route we took today, there is a moment where you stand on the very edge of civilization. Behind you is open sky and houses and the lower half of the ravine, but in front of you the path abruptly transitions from open sky to thick forest. There is no middle ground, no lead up of small bushes and the occasional tree, no time to move your mind gently from one landscape to another. The path merely vanishes between two trees that mark the edge of the forest and with a single step you leave the warmth of the sun and plunge into the cool, damp mystery of the woods and all its inhabitants.

We play in those woods a lot. We look for flowers and toads, sticks and pinecones, and of course our animal friends. We leave little piles of bird seed on stumps and rocks, hunt for fairies and ogres, and walk carefully around the hole in the ground where the chipmunk lives. We walk through these woods a lot too, for they mark the shortest path to the corner store, to Creek Crossing park, and (of course) to the mini golf.

But never, until today, did one of the kids walk this path alone.

On the way home from golfing, B wanted to take the longer, sunnier way home rather than cut through the woods. I suspect an unwillingness to fend of mosquitos was no small part of her decision, but as the difference is only about two minutes worth, I was willing to indulge her. K, on the other hand, was not. I expected whining and arguing and all the other stuff that siblings do as a matter of course and parents grit their teeth and endure, but instead I was presented with a newfound maturity, independence, and willingness to negotiate:

“Mom, how about I go through the woods by myself and meet you guys at home? Can I?”

Oh, the thumping this mother’s heart did! We were at that point still a good 10 minute walk from home by either route, and K was proposing launching off on his own — through the woods, no less! This child of mine with no sense of direction and even less sense of time, who worries over little things and big things alike and rarely ventures into a new situation without much coaching and encouragement, alone in the woods with all those options for exploration in front of him… What should I say?

So I said yes, of course you can, we’ll meet you at home in about 10 minutes.

And we did.

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