Simple weekend brings grand outdoor miracles


Change is in the air, and not just because lots of people spent the weekend marching for science.

Science.  Think about that for a minute.  It’s like a march for keeping everyone’s desk organized, or maybe for castor oil.

Since when do we have to march for something so obviously good and essential?

Never mind.  Everybody knows since when, so there’s not much point going there. It’s the world we live in.

That world has been wearing on me, so rather than supporting the Earth on Earth Day or marching for science, I decided to do something I could actually control, like get my kids to behave all weekend and go hiking with me.

Yeah, I know.  It’s easier to get a rich man to pass you his money through the eye of a needle, an eye welded shut with a tiny blowtorch the size of a career politician’s scruples.

But, believe it or not, my kids were both angels all weekend.

Somebody must have threatened them with a castor-oil doughnut or something (it wasn’t me), but what I got out of the deal was a couple of bike rides, a couple of playground trips, and a hike at George W. Mead Wildlife Area.

It was a spring miracle, a harbinger of change and growth, and maybe even a sign of hope for the future.

Hey, where did those kids come from?

It started Saturday morning, when I went to awake the grumpy teenage boy who usually lives in the room of my son, Sam.

But Sam was there instead, because when I suggested that perhaps he should go to an Arbor Day service project at which some of his Boy Scout troop mates were volunteers – even though we had never discussed this – he simply said, “OK.”

I peered closely at him, saw that it was indeed my long-lost son, and hustled him to the car before he changed his mind.  I bought him a gourmet breakfast sandwich at the hoity-toity coffee shop, and more than once he generously offered me some of it, seeming to be truly concerned that I did not have my own sandwich.

He cheerfully helped plant several dozen trees – some type of crabapple that will bloom along County HH in Whiting – and returned home in a pleasant mood.

I was impressed.  So I paroled his favorite video games, at least temporarily, from the lockup in my university office, where they have been in solitary confinement for a number of weeks.

Later that afternoon, while Sam watched his sister, I took advantage of the perfect weather for a solo bike ride through town and on the Plover River portion of the Green Circle Trail, where the water had spread well over the normal banks, giving a pair of kayakers a fine place to float.

I was thankful for, but not quite satisfied with, the outdoor time.  So, when I got home after about 45 minutes, I told the 8-year-old tornado we call our daughter – who was agitating for her own screen time – that she could have it in the evening if she took a bike ride with me.

This was not just any old ride.  Over the winter she finished outgrowing her pink, white and lavender “Hello Kitty” bike and needs something larger. So I lowered the seat on Sam’s five-year-old Trek, which  he now can barely fit, and off we went.

Lorena couldn’t easily drop a foot to the ground without some risk to her balance.  But she was delighted with the whirring of the chain through the derailleurs when she found she could pedal backwards.

When she discovered the concept of more efficient and powerful biking through gears, however, it was game on.

That made for a terrifying ride for dad, of course. Until we could get off of our downtown streets and sidewalks, I knew it would be Adrenaline-and-Fear City for me.

Then we got to Pfiffner Park and it was even worse.

Lorena blazed through approximately 80,000 prom attendees and their parents and uncles and aunts and grandparents and agents and attorneys, all taking pictures and signing consent forms and waivers, and of course looking quite elegant and excited while doing so.  Even the teenagers were excited.

After a stop at the Bukolt lodge playground, which had a moat around the border that Lorena promptly jumped into, we headed back through the dance of spring and over to KASH playground.

With, of course, the requisite heart-in-throat crossing of the Clark Street Bridge, where Lorena’s mad dash on a speeding-but-wavering bike prompted every fatherly fear I was capable of, and then some.

As she played at KASH, I realized I might have only one or two more springs before she tires of playgrounds.  Watching children scamper about as flowers and buds popped out around us, under a beautiful sky with fine temperatures, was both nostalgic and melancholic.

Like Christmas in April

Sunday was even more beautiful, and Lorena’s friend Sydney had come over after church. I decided to take the kids to Mead, as we’d not yet made a trip together to that fine regional spot.

There was not a peep of protest – not even from Sam, whose brain I worried about being rewired after even a single session of video games.

It was my third trip to Mead in the last 14 months, but I haven’t come close to getting enough of it. The expansiveness of its bogs and marshes feels majestic, as if each visitor is in the center of the universe.  It’s a fine way to feel distant from politics, attorneys and bills for fancy dresses.

Sydney was thrilled to spot a turkey, and she also saw a snake in the still-dry grasses left over from fall. We saw a heron, a duck, many chickadees and something blue-headed and chevron-tailed that I couldn’t quite identify.

The girls, in particular, were having a lot of fun, so it was a surprise that they didn’t run off every bird in the place. When we met other adults (there was a steady stream of folks enjoying the Mead afternoon), I’d apologize for the volume.

Without fail, the adults would respond that enjoying nature was the purpose, and each reminded me that there’s nothing better for kids than getting them outdoors.

Later, there would be another trip to KASH with the girls after dropping off Sam at the house, as well as ice cream for all.  The real highlight, however, fell like a surprise meteor out of the deep blue sky over Mead.

Sam said, “You know, we really ought to go to Devil’s Lake or something next weekend.”

As I mentioned earlier, it was a spring miracle.  It was a harbinger of change and growth.

But no maybe about it – it was definitely a sign of hope for the future.


This post originally appeared in the April 28, 2017, edition of The Portage County Gazette.

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