I was so eager to go for a hike and a nature outing this week and we planned to visit a nearby state forest. My hope was that we would walk awhile and then settle somewhere for lunch and then we could play and maybe I'd even get to read or knit while the girls romped nearby through whatever natural playground we found.
We parked along a deserted forest road and trekked up a trail in the quiet woods. Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines, and cottonwoods towered above us as we picked our way carefully among a rocky uphill section of the trail. Around the bend and it was a spongy floor of fallen pine needles carpeting our way. We spotted elk tracks and droppings and many deer trails veering off into the trees and meadows. A jay scolded us from a treetop before flying off, irritated at the racket made by children excited to be outside. Lyddie triumphantly identified a Doug fir by its needles. Millie found a walking stick and followed close to her daddy, while Rosie tried to cling to my hand and carry several sticks and pieces of bark at the same time in her other hand. I snapped pictures here and there and shushed continually to no avail. Any creatures that might have been in the woods fled far before us.
Jesse taught the girls last week how to lay snowberries on a hard place and stomp on them to make them pop loudly. I laughed to see the antics so reminiscent of Independence Day "pop-its" but occurring entirely naturally. He said this was something he used to do as a kid in the woods where he grew up, and he was a little pleased to impart something happy from his childhood to his own children.
We made our way to a picnic area and sat watching the robins in the bushes across the creek while we passed the grapes and chewed our sandwiches. There were some complaints about the cold, and apparently a sweatshirt and a woolen sweater weren't enough for the children (though to be frank, it wasn't just the children complaining of cold; apparently my strong mountain man no longer likes to be cold. I was sure to find every opportunity to tease him). My disappointment was real that we had to wrap up the day early, right when we were arriving at my favorite part. But first we roamed the creekside and I was pulled - "Mama!! Close your eyes! Let me lead you" to forts made of branches the girls constructed with Jesse last week while I was home sick. We balanced on logs and noted how much higher the creek had risen since the previous week, and marveled at the increased color in the leaves as well. There was such a riotous display of beauty in the hills there, even the usually-yellow aspens had decided to put on red-orange gowns to compete. Although we were really just a half hour's drive outside of town, it was such a different landscape that it felt like we had traveled much further. We will certainly return to this forest and my grand plans are to be sure to bring hats, mittens, and coats and to hopefully have a campfire over the afternoon. We will have our very own outdoor classroom if I can help it! I think it is quite likely that the days we spend in this way are the most formative and important thing we might do in these young school years. They are certainly the most favorite thing we do.