Our daughter isn’t home for summer vacation just yet, but I’ve been taking her on short hiking trips after school so that we can spend time together in the silence of the forest. She usually tries to fight me (homebody that she is) so that she can get her nose into a book as quickly as possible, but something about the rhythm of the road lulls her, settles her for the journey.
Last week we drove north on the Parkway to the Craggy Gardens picnic area and took the trail to Snowball Mountain. The trees were dense and green, and the air smelled like soap and cold, clean water. Being in the woods is as familiar to her as a grandmother’s kitchen; it is always a sensual experience that brings her directly into the present moment. She lets me remind her that the forest lives inside of her by now like any other place she loves.
I recall the dapper grey bird, his wings like a black overcoat, we couldn’t identify (try as we did to mimic the beauty of his song and match it to our internal repertoires) who preferred the cooler air higher up and the moss-covered birches. And the game we played to find the perfect manifestation of color after seeing so many shocking examples: cardinals, silver-tipped sedges swaying like the sea, gold dappled shadows. The barn red decay of fallen trees.
She needs the silence as much as I do, needs this ritual to soothe the frenzy of our days. I tell her that the forest will always be a place she can return to, and she nods solemnly the way that children do when something feels exceptionally true.
It isn’t necessary to go far. There are nooks along the Parkway ripe for observation. Let your children stomp around discovering treasures as marvelous as any in an old attic. Let the woods become their familiars. A sunset hike on the back end of Rattlesnake Lodge (right before the Tanbark Ridge Tunnel) is enough to make anyone feel a deep sense of connection to the natural world – the flora turned the color of embers inspiring the sleepy stillness of a campfire.
Let them go in search of water like the children in Frost’s poem. There’s a hidden spring on the Craggy Gardens trail and trees low and gently sloped for climbing. Shope Creek in East Asheville is perfect for building fairy houses and following warblers as high as the trails allow.
Hike any section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail after dinner with the heart of a wanderer, since there isn’t any perfect end or destination close by; toddlers will feel an enormous sense of accomplishment for any little section explored.
Here’s wishing you many small journeys this summer that will only lead to a richer and deeper relationship with our mountains and with your family.