When I was a kid, my Dad entertained us kids in the strangest of all ways (at least for my generation). He took us out into the woods and just wandered. Usually we would have a specific purpose, such as picking berries or scouting out a good hunting spot, but sometimes it was just walking for the sake of being outside and walking. It was actually a rare treat to go to a manicured park with playground equipment and such. We were so used to just wandering in the woods and making fun out of that.
I remember these trips as a sort of delicious torture. MN summers are the polar opposite of MN winters. Hot, humid, full of bloodsucking critters that seem to come from nowhere by the millions. There were desperately bad cases of sunburn, scratches from raspberry and blackberry bushes, sore hands from picking the wild hazelnuts, and the dreaded "itch-weed" that seemed to lurk everywhere that there was good foraging.
In my memory (though not necessarily in fact) we would go on these trips every weekend for much of the summer.
I DO remember how almost every trip would go, though. First, Dad would pile us kids in the car long before I was ready to be functional in the morning. When I was younger, provisions would be bottles of water and a package of bratwurst or "hobo meals" but after I got into a heated discussion (at the ripe old age of 5 or 6) with one of the park employees over the difference between a "campfire" and a "cooking fire" in a fire restricted area that had to change. For the record, a cooking fire is very small and mostly coals. A campfire is big with lots of flame. Still, a fire is a fire and when you are in a drought and there are "no fire" signs posted everywhere, it probably isn't the wisest course to make one in the middle of a "minimum maintenance" DNR access road. No matter how hungry your kids are.
After that, we started stopping at the local gas station and picking up what (for my brother and I) was the ultimate of treats. We would get Chuckwagon sandwiches and Clearly Canadian water. This was back when Clearly Canadian came in the cool glass bottles. I loved how cold they were when I was all hot and sticky from running in the woods. The bottles would get so slippery from the condensation, and my poor little hands could hardly hold on to them. Many times I would end up using Dad's shirt to clean the mud off my bottle after dropping it in the dust. Poor Dad couldn't keep a shirt clean.
We would start our walk with an ice cream bucket each, wandering along the edges of the woods where the berries liked to grow best. I usually munched the first few handfuls of berries in an attempt to get the taste of bug spray out of my mouth. This was before the "Unscented" varieties of bug spray, and my father believed that the stinkier it was the better it worked. I never could hold my breath long enough, and always ended up with a mouthful of that bitter spray.
To my credit, after that I usually settled into filling my bucket. Really, I only ate the overripe ones that crushed in my hands. Ummm, yeah. There I would stand in my long sleeves and long pants (protection from the sun and horseflies, but not from the heat) and pick away at the bushes of berries, listening to the symphony of bird calls and insect buzzes that plays in any undeveloped area. My brother was younger, and didn't care so much about filling his bucket. One of my favorite quotes from him was a time when he became jealous of the inch or two of berries in the bottom of my bucket. He ran up to Dad and said "I just keep pickin' and pickin' and my bucket keeps getting emptier and emptier!". Dad covered the bottom of his bucket with berries, but it didn't really help. Bro's bucket was empty again before we had gone 1/4 mile.
Dad usually worked it so that we had lunch at some beaver dam (so us kids would be distracted watching the beavers) or a sandy area (where he could look for rocks). He was either a genius at figuring out just when our little legs would demand a rest or he was much more patient about dealing with whiny comments of "I'm tired" and "I'm hungry" than I will ever be.
After lunch, my Bro and I would be tired (remember, we were just little kids), and whine until Dad consented to walk us back to the car and head home. Bro and I would gratefully sink into our seats and start munching on the berries we had in our buckets, cheerfully ignoring Dad's warnings that Mom would be "awful mad" if we got home with no berries for her. I don't think I remember any of the drives home. I am sure we would both be sound asleep before we hit the main road, and slept dreamlessly till Dad woke us at home.
When we got home, Mom would dutifully exclaim over the few bug~ridden berries that managed to make it home before whisking us each off to the bathroom for a shower and the dreaded "tick check". If any of you parents out there ever need a way to encourage your children to bathe, find a wood tick attached to them somewhere. They will feel those creepy crawlies until they have scrubbed off at least two layers of skin. I think the worst part, for me, was when Mom would check through my hair. It is impossible to remove a tick from the head of a child with waist length hair without pulling some of it out. I know that now, but at the time I was sure I was being tortured to death. My poor Mom.
I remember evenings after "walk days" being very mellow. I think mostly my Bro and I would hang around the house telling Mom over (and OVER) about all the animals we saw and how fast we ran, etc until she would finally order us to bed after our "busy day".
Years later, some of my best childhood memories are from these "nature walks" with my Dad. When Big Sprout was younger, he would take her on the same kind of walks. I think the best birthday gift I ever gave him was a plastic bin for his truck with the words "Grandpa's Nature Walk Kit" on it. Inside I put all the necessities of a good walk in the woods. Bug spray, sunblock, first aid kit, rain ponchos for those unexpected showers, one of those collapsible coolers for beverages, the whole works. I even wrote him a letter about all the things those walks taught me. I wish I would have kept a copy, it was one of the best things I have ever written.
The walks don't happen as much anymore, I think age has finally caught up with all of us. We don't handle the bugs and the heat as well as we once did, and our lives have become more and more busy. When I have time to think about it, I am sorry that this has happened. I think those walks were a big part of what made me grow up to be the person I am, and I would like that for my own Sprouts. Maybe this summer will be the summer that I can make it happen. I can always hope.