Hit the Trail | Community Spirit
What would you expect a four-and-three-quarter-year-old to say at the end of a four-and-a-half-mile hike that she just finished using her own two feet? “What a wonderful day,” Sofi announced when we walked past the old Tavern (that I was wishing was still a tavern) at Great Falls National Park.
The Gold Mine trail was beautiful, and an unexpected quiet, peaceful hike near the busy Great Falls overlook in Potomac, Maryland. It wasn’t Sofi’s longest hike – she started out a few years ago, hiking the trail to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. That trek was four pine needle-scented miles, round trip. My husband, Blake, and I carried her for part of that one. But hey, she wasn’t quite two years old. She’s done 5 miles in Shenandoah National Park and countless other hikes all over, including Everglades, Yellowstone, Arches, Canyonlands and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. A couple other favorites are Assateague Island National Seashore and the New River Gorge National River. When Sofi was two she started using the word “national” whenever she thought something was simply sensational. Like if I dressed up (doesn’t happen often): “Mom, you look national!”
Our son, Zane, started joining us on our hikes the winter he was born. Usually he rides comfy in a red backpack on Blake’s back. He gazes up at the tree canopy and seems to appreciate being surrounded by green. At a year-and-a-half, he has words just for the things that are crucial to his happiness. “Outside” is one of them, though it sounds more like, “ow-sigh”.
Not every step of the way is without complaint –games like Hide-and-Seek, Name that Tree and First One to the Next Blaze keep those little legs moving forward. And it’s not always about moving forward. A wise friend told us a few years ago that hiking with kids is different. “You gotta let go of that whole point A to point B thing.” Great advice, because if you can let go of that and get into a peaceful head space, you’re where you want to be, right? You gotta stop and smell the pine cones. Wait, is that a pine cone? Let’s get out the guide and see what kind of tree that came from.
We investigate, we smell things, look closer, discuss. Blake has even encouraged the kids to touch that questionable stone to their tongues to test if it’s a rock or a fossil bone. (Bones stick to your tongue.) Oh yeah, you bet I cringed the first time I saw that, but I got over it before I stopped anybody. It’s an experience to lick a rock.
And I accept that occasional rock lick, mosquito bite or scraped knee for the sake of connecting my kids to nature. We are purposeful in our activities with our kids, hoping our respect and craving for the outdoors will rub off on them. Seeing our children so comfortable in nature makes me feel like I’m on the right track. Sofi just reminded me about a trip to Shenandoah when she was three, and on our first hike that weekend it started pouring rain. I mean, really dumping on us. Sofi cracked up. Blake was carrying her in his arms to speed up the loop, and she kept reaching out to catch a handful of water and feed it to her papa. She thought that was the funniest thing. Even funnier might have been the sight of us showing up to dinner in the Skyland Lodge in our pajamas because we brought only one set of hiking clothes and our jammies on that trip.
Now, don’t feel like you have to travel far to enjoy fantastic natural places. DC is a very green city, and you can head out in any direction to find a beautiful natural wonder out there. After living in Montana for a very formative eight years, returning to my hometown of DC was a shock to the system. I longed for the mountains (still do) and couldn’t really conceive of living an outdoorsey life or raising a couple of tree huggers in Maryland. But that was short-sighted. Montgomery County, Maryland has five awesome nature centers: Brookside, Meadowside, Black Hill, Locust Grove and the Agricultural History Farm Park. All these spots have great hiking trails around them and interesting things for kids to explore inside on rainy days. There are tons of options around here, so just get on the net, find a trail and hit it.