Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nature Hike vs. Forced March

One of the joys of my teaching job is that sometimes I get to teach really cool things. Thanks to my friend and colleague Kerri, who I bonded with over the Rachel Carson Trail last June, I am now co-teaching a backpacking class. It is basically a bit of Nature 101 for college students.

We took a long hike yesterday, at McConnell's Mill State Park, on the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail, 6.2 miles of variable terrain. The girls went with me, and I was a bit nervous about this. However, one thing I love about my children is that they are game for a trail, especially with food along. Emily hiked the whole thing, and I carried Hazel for perhaps half of it - but 3 miles is a long way for a five year old, and I was really impressed with both of them. Moreover, they kept up a good pace - which was a good thing given that the hike started at 5 pm. I told Emily afterward that I was particularly impressed that she can hike almost as many miles as her age (8), which I think is actually an impressive feat for almost any age.

I love nature walks, and though this was in nature, it wasn't quite a nature hike. My cousin Brigid takes her grandsons on "adventure walks" - low mileage, slow pace, but noticing everything on the way and probably picking up quite a lot of rocks and bugs en route. Her adventure hikes sound like my idea of a good nature walk. I'd rather have had this be a long nature hike, but given the late start, I was afraid it would be a forced march instead, especially because once we got in the car together we really did have to go the whole way, no turning back. The situation made me a bit nervous. We stepped in a number of streams but couldn't play for long; we saw a number of flowers and couldn't stop to admire much; I knew if Hazel got too tired I could carry her a lot, but not the whole way. We passed a lot of rocks and logs and couldn't spend energy climbing on any of them. We ate dinner on the trail, but it was fruit leathers, peanut butter or nutella and bread.

So I don't know what the kids got out of it, but I know this: we all slept well, we stopped for doughnuts on the way home, the girls showed a lot of courage and stamina and fortitude and even, often enough, playfulness. When the footing got rough, Hazel delighted in being able to nimble over it much better than I; when the hills got steep, Emily complained gently and good-naturedly, and kept up a good pace right on up the slope (I like to think that having an 8 year old do the hike so well makes the students realize they can do it, but in truth this class has a bunch of good hikers in it already). The girls did a great job, and I am really, really proud of them. I will try to make sure we don't have too many hikes like this, but I know that when we need to, they can do it, beautifully.

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