Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Nature Nearby (Pic of the Week)


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)

10 Responses to Nature Nearby (Pic of the Week)

  1. He is getting so big and so adorable (er)! Hope Shannon is feeling better, too bad she missed such an awesome walk…can’t wait for the day that we have a warm enough day for a family adventure.

  2. I so enjoy the sharing of time with Ben that you share with us Mark.
    Makes me feel like I’m right there with you two.

    I honestly feel, if I met you face to face, we’d feel so comfortable, like we’ve known each other for ages! *S*

    Have a great weekend Mark.

  3. Words cannot express my unfettered joy that, in amongst the nature revels of you and your boy, you saw fit to include an introspective moment on the wave – particle duality of light. That warmed me at least as much as your coat and the sunbeam did Shannon.

    Your supermodel insight is probably not too far off the mark either, er, Mark.

    Right now we’re all gnashing our teeth and chomping at the bit and pawing the earth and displaying a myriad other signs of impatience for spring to show its face. February is always the worst month of the year. The warm outdoors is getting closer, but it’s still occluded by the shroud of the last hurrah of that bitch, winter.

  4. As always, great pictures, Mark. The top one is the best shot, but the bottom one makes me want to go climb on something…and that earns lots of points from me.

    The long drive to nature is one thing I hate about the burbs as well. I grew up on an 84-acre piece of wooded property in the Ozarks. It’s still odd for me to know that I have to drive some distance before I could find a quiet stream to sit beside. Good description of the unstable rocks, too.

    I got a kick out of the bagpiper’s blog. Very cool that you both thought the experience worth talking about. Glad you decided to stop.

  5. Living near the Ohio River and three major tributaries is heaven. We enjoy both hiking and kayaking the area once explored by Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone. At their present age, getting the kids out there takes some work. Once we get there, they don’t want to leave.

    It’s sad in today’s world that you have to think twice before offering to do something nice. I hate that the criminals and perverts have ruined it for those of us who aren’t.

  6. JJB – As much as I know looks don’t (or at least shouldn’t) matter in today’s world, it is nice for a photography buff like me to have a photogenic kid.

    I’m trying to blow some of our warm weather your way right now. We have an expected high of only 70 today, so maybe it’s working.

    Dave – Nice of you to say. Wouldn’t a meeting be fun? I’ve heard of online friends doing that, but I’ve never tried it. I’m not a freak if you’re not a freak. ;)

    Simon – I may have been an English major in college, and I may not like math much, but Physics was my favorite class in high school and college. Then I married a gal whose dad is a Ph.D physicist who taught it in college. If I ever have a question, I know exactly where to turn.

    What hot air I didn’t send JJB’s way, I’m now sending to you. Because, I’ve got plenty of it.

    MG – I was hoping that last shot would show how much his mind works when he’s in adventure mode. I was afraid it would be hard to instill that in a ‘burbs-reared child.

    So you know exactly how it feels to establish a family in a spot so starkly different from that of your childhood. It just doesn’t seem natural (bad wording, I know, but to heck with it)

    Blitz – Ah, river fun. Nothing like a good float trip.

    It was my paranoia about what people might think that stopped me from offering to take a picture. Next time, I’m doing it.

  7. I think you captured that adventure nicely, Mark. I guess that’s what I was talking about when I said it made me want to go climb something. He’s got that look, perched on his tiny mountain of concrete and rock, that sums up how I feel when climbing on stuff.

    My dream is to get Norah out to a place with a bit more wilderness before she gets too used to the burbs. We’ll see how that pans out.

    Also, it’s a shame that society has changed so much that a guy offering to take a picture of girls playing could be seen as creepy. One of my favoritie things about going to the mall with Norah is than I now feel I’m allowed to stop and gawk at other people’s babies without them worrying that I might be untrustworthy. Women, seniors, and guys with a baby of their own are trusted near children. Understandable…but sad.

  8. Mark, just as an FYI, I’ve met many friends from online, and have never, ever been disappointed!

    Friends are friends no matter where it begins.

  9. MG – Well put.

    Dave – As much as a part of me wants to find that phrase corny or cheesy, I just can’t. I like it.

    “Friends are friends no matter where it begins.”

    I expect “why” could be substituted for “where,” and it would work just as well.

    I agree, Dave we’d probably get along pretty well, as would all of those who participate in our discussions. I can’t speak for the lurkers, but if they’re reading regularly, then maybe that says enough. Any guy who doesn’t look at me funny when I say, “No, I don’t hunt,” is already at least in the same book, if not on the same page. And the ladies? Well, I get along with all of them.

  10. Glad you got out. We had a blast in Heber this weekend, and LC mentioned Ben a million times as usual. We rode the four wheeler and the golf cart in the woods, and I’m sure Ben would have enjoyed it. Hopefully we’ll have nice weather over Easter and we can get to play in the woods some.


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