This summer, Elly and I have had a lot of time together to do whatever we want. Andrew's gift to us this past Christmas was a new bike for me and a bike trailer for Elly. As a family, we have not taken the plethora of bike trips that we dreamed about in the dead of winter. In fact, other than a short trip around the country block in April, we as a family have only had a chance to bike one other time all summer. So last week, the weather was just right: mid 70s, not too humid and breezy. Elly and I took off. (Andy could not join us as he was building new sheep fence!)
I had figured out our destination. There is the small map dot village, and just outside of that village lies a magical place...
A creek and nature preserve. The creek is the only creek in our county and it connects a local lake to the river that forms the northern border of our farm. When this area was first settled, the people recognized the beauty and potential of the creek and built a saw mill and grain mill over its waters. Local churches would hold picnics in the grassy areas within the forest and some even did their baptisms in the cool waters. In the 20th century, the mills closed down and it wasn't until the 1970s that a group of citizens raised the money to preserve the wooded creek area and maintain the trails for everyone to enjoy. Today, there are hiking paths, bridges and information boards about the local flora/fauna throughout its many trails.
After a half hour of biking, we made it to our destination and had a snack. Then we went in! The whole area is wooded with beautiful native Wisconsin trees and plants. The nature trail is clearly marked because that is the most common path used by visitors. We traversed down some steep stairs and then hit the actual mossy earth trail within. After a hot bike trip, the shade of the canopy was a welcome relief. Elly began her exploration by pointing out every different kind of leaf and asking, "Wazz-thiss?" Soon we heard the babbling of the hidden creek and quickened our pace. All around we could hear birds 40 feet above us and rustling of foliage right near our feet. Suddenly a glimmer caught my eye and then the sun reflected off of a mysterious serpentine creature not 20 yards away. Another few steps and the trees parted enough that I could see the creek meandering past, shining and brilliant in the summer heat. I picked Elly up and asked "Do you see the water?" She pointed in earnest. The path followed the stream for about a tenth of a mile and we could see the water was very red and clear. (There are a lot of iron deposits in this area). Water bugs spun in circles in the shallows and tiny minnows darted left and right between the rocks. I determined that we needed to get down to stream level so that Elly could actually splash around and enjoy the water.
Unfortunately, the creek bank was very steep and rather dangerous. We kept on, looking for a way down. A fallen tree blocked our path, but Elly crawled over like an experienced rock climber! Then I saw a small break in the bank and decided to chance it. With Elly in my arms, holding onto me like an orangutang baby, we climbed down tree roots and reached the creek edge with nary a spec of dirt on us! I set Elly down and the first thing she did was truck right into the water; shoes, socks, pants and all! Silly me, I thought she'd stay where it was dry and just splash a little with her hands. Silly me. I had chosen a spot where a fallen tree limb blocked the rush of the current and allowed for a sort of natural pool to form at the edge of the water. I let her play and splash and move stones and poke with a stick. A little wet never hurt anyone.
All the while, I was in awe of the simple beauty surrounding me. Arching tree limbs formed a half tunnel over the creek, mottled greens and beiges filtered with brilliant light, and the subtle touch of Autumn, easing into the forest's color spectrum. Here and there, a pinch of gold or yellow greeted my eye. When we returned to the path ten feet above us, I realized that I hadn't seen but a few summer flowers in bloom. Actually, as I looked around, what I saw more of was nuts and ripened berries and that aged green that leaves get in late summer.
I realized that Elly and I had stumbled onto a rite of passage in that woods. It was like a secret that we were allowed to witness: the colors, the scents, the feel of the path under our feet.
We had seen the birth of Autumn that day.
As we finished up our trek in the woods, Elly became particularly fascinated with the acorns in the path. So we stopped, sat down in the dirt and sorted acorns. Being on the ground level like that is something we adults would probably choose not to do, but that is why I love bringing Elly to see these things! She brings a perspective that I haven't shared in a long, long time. At 16 months, she will hardly remember our day together, but I will. In fact, I believe she is the reason we witnessed what we did. Only a child's attention to small details could have revealed something so precious.
Please, take the time one of these days to visit a nature preserve near you. You can't imagine how worth it that trip will be!
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.