Our Southern-born kids have been quick converts to hats, mittens, puffy coats, and long underwear. Despite temperatures in the low 20’s, we layer on clothes and head out to explore our little woods and wetland.
We crunch across a grassy field in front of the barns, then angle down towards the water. Weeds that towered above our heads this fall now lie flattened by snow, which then melted over the warm, mushy Christmas. We beeline for the beaver lodge.
Beaver-chewed trees edge the wetland, and a neatly arranged dam of branches connects to the lodge. The kids love perching atop the lodge, hollering to any beavers that they imagine sleeping inside, but that have probably abandoned the lodge. It looks old, covered with vegetation and likely uninhabited.
From the beaver lodge, we duck into the scrubby woods. We pause to watch chickadees sipping from one fist-sized patch of open water. Two large rocks at the wetland’s edge make perfect sitting and viewing spots, but we’re too chilly and sparkling to sit down.
Instead, we test the ice. It holds all of our weight and captures all of our imaginations. Sam leads, stepping across the mostly clear water, frozen into a matrix of bubbles and duckweed and branches. He discovers that when cattails are whacked together, they make a blizzard of seed puffs. Soon both kids are making it snow.
The next day—the first day of the new year—we blaze a trail. Taking trimmers, machetes, and a hacksaw, we choose our path, beginning beside the chickadee’s drinking hole. The trail crosses over our mossy wildlife watching rock and follows the tumbling stone wall along the wetland. Stella straddles a fallen log—her boat, she says—and yells encouragement. Sawing skinny trees and lopping off branches, we tunnel through an almost impenetrable thicket of dogwood.
As we veer uphill along an adjoining stone wall, Sam laughs, “It’s like we’re trimming the hair on a giant head.” We are almost finished with this strange haircut, a swerving path. It will fork soon, with one branch curving up like a reverse mohawk to the crest of the hill, passing the old apple orchard. The other branch will wrap our property’s perimeter, meeting a field and dipping down to the bottom corner.
We will walk this trail for years. Slow binocular-bearing walks, for seeing and listening. Walks together, making plans or sorting things out. Loud stop-and-start walks with kids who loop through the woods like dogs on a scent. Jogging walks to burn calories or burn off steam. Walks alone, looking inward the way you can while walking a familiar trail through the gently changing woods.