Ben watches me as he thinks about the next rock he’ll throw.
Just last week I told my wife I know exactly why I don’t ask for a morning here or there to just get up and go do my own thing (her morning thing is sleeping in). It’s because my place to go has mountains and trees. Waterfalls. Wild azaleas and irises. Reaching and enjoying such refuge would require a whole day, if not an overnight trip.
Occasionally a part of my brain, that cluster of cells that longs to see and enjoy the outdoors, laments the move we made to Texas. Now, a 2.5-hour drive barely gets me to a spot as scenic as what before required only a 5-minute jaunt. Although I’ve never been a Cub Scout or a Boy Scout, some of my fondest childhood memories are of woodland walks with my father and brother.
Last weekend, we found refuge in the most unlikely spot, a mere 14 miles from our house. It’s in the Plano City Park system, and it’s called Arbor Hills Nature Preserve. From the picnic pavilions, one can see large homes on the ridge across the valley. Just a short walk down to the creek, however, and I can almost forget I’m surrounded by suburbia.
Our first trip there started out badly.
It was about 60 degrees with strong wind gusts. We all donned jackets, if you can count Shannon’s paper-thin Old Navy hoody. Once inside the pavilions, we realized that without the sun to warm her, Shannon was going to be cold. I noticed one end of a distant table was bathed in sunlight, and made a beeline for it.
Shannon still was cold, so I turned chivalrous and gave her my faux leather jacket, a dark brown affair that no doubt would absorb the sun’s rays (and particles?) to make her toasty. My dark olive long-sleeve tee suited me fine.
Despite the perfect spot and his mommy’s newfound comfort, Ben was grouchy and restless. He whined a lot and said he didn’t want his sandwich. When he finally took a few bites, his demeanor changed and for the remaining time he was delightful. It’s amazing how, even when they’re old enough to tell you they’re hungry, they express it in the same way they did as a baby. (Could this be the reason so many supermodels are jerks?)
Ben had a blast on the playground equipment, one of the most extensive setups I’ve seen. His favorite part, of course, was the swing. He would have let me push him all day had I not suggested we hit the trail.
Shannon wasn’t feeling well, so she headed back to Homer for a nap.
Ben and I walked down a hill, and instead of the sidewalk, we took the dirt trail. It had been months since I had done that, and it felt good. It joined back up with the sidewalk a mere 25 yards along, but I noted other trails that snaked into the woods.
Within minutes, we reached a paved foot bridge. Children lifting rocks in the creek below caught Ben’s eye. “Daddy, I wanna go down there,” he said.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
We walked out a short distance and then descended a stretch of scree to the water’s edge. I loved the unstable footing, hearing the rocks crunch under foot as my ankles and knees adjusted to keep me upright. Following a shoreline trail, we made our way back to the bridge, this time for a view of its underbelly. I snapped a few pics of Ben holding his newfound stick.
After a group of seven little girls, most under age 5, made an unintentionally wet crossing, Ben wanted to do the same. He pointed to a stagnant pool directly under the bridge. “No, not there, son. We’ll walk across those rocks, just like the little girls.”
“I wish we had a camera,” said one of the ladies chaperoning the little girls.
For a split second I considered aiming my camera at the girls and then offering to e-mail the pictures. No, this is my time with my boy. Plus, strange man taking pictures of little girls.
We met the girls again, at a bend in the creek reminiscent of back home. “I got the biggest rock!” one of the girls said as she struggled to hold a flat, wet stone out in front of her knees. Muddy clouds billowed out into the clear water.
Ben watched as other girls lugged their finds over to a pile on dry land. He walked to an unoccupied area of the gravel bar and picked pebbles to make splashes of his own.
I tossed a few in, as I’m always up for the satisfying “kerplunk” of a well-placed rock hitting the water.
I snapped a few more pics of Ben before we headed back to the van. Homer sat there perfectly still as Shannon slumbered in one of his seats. Tired from a day of play and exploration, Ben took a long nap when we got home.
That cluster of my brain felt fulfilled again. I will remember Arbor Hills, an already scenic spot no doubt bolstered by the leaves and blooms of spring. At the very least, maybe the green will hide some of those reminders that civilization is just up the hill.
(Note: Rafe posted a blog entry about his bagpipe practice yesterday — apparently his practice time became quite the show. Scroll down to “Last Night’s Practice” to read his take on it)