posts tagged with 'advent'

bikes take us farther

We had plans yesterday to meet up with friends and go exploring on bikes, which seemed like just the thing with the forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures touching the 70s. So we were surprised to wake up to cool drizzle (especially since I had left the car open!). The unexpected gloom and wet was too much for our friends, who preferred to stay cozy at home. But we get plenty of coziness and laziness, so we pushed on with the expedition—and we were glad we did!

Zion and Elijah sitting by a misty pond

what could be finer?

Our target was the Estabrook Woods in Concord. We've been there before, but on foot we can only get so far so there was lots we hadn't been able to see. Of course, there's some question how much faster the four of us can move on bikes on a wet spring day over some serious hills! There were certainly some spots where Elijah at least was pushing his bike up a hill because it was too steep to make progress, and then back down the other side because it was too scary a descent. But we was working hard and trying his best, and he got some great practice in! And then of course there were spots where we all needed to walk our bikes. The four serious water crossings we had to do, for example.

the boys pushing their bikes across a wide rocky stream

when you have to walk it's a real expedition

Of course, it wasn't all riding and pushing: we took our time and made plenty of stops. There were big rocks to climb and vistas to admire, and we found a great spot to have lunch by the side of a giant shallow pond (pictured above). The most exciting part of our lunch spot was the goose drama that played out on the pond as we watched, with one pair harrying another all around on the water and in the air, with plenty of noise and dramatic take-offs and landings. But the best wildlife sighting belonged to Elijah: he was the only one to notice a tiny newt clinging to the side of a tree. When he called us all back to look the little guy very obligingly held still for a picture.

a little red newt on a tree

the boys wished they could bring him home as a pet

Even though we only went about four miles, it was a challenging ride and the boys were plenty tired when we made it back to the car. But we didn't see all of the woods, so we'll have to go back soon! Though maybe when it's a little less wet...

the boys riding through a giant puddle on the trail

the pond was invading the trail

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boating!

Ever since the ice started melting and the rivers rising, we've been wanting to get out on the water. And this year we've got navigable water closer to home than ever: this past fall the town had our local pond, Fawn Lake, dredged out, so now where there used to be mats of tangled water lilies there's beautiful open water. That's where we went today. We've spent lots of times at Fawn Lake over the years, and it was lovely to be able to finally see everything we know so well around the shore from the water!

the canoe by the big rock at Fawn Lake

scenic overlook

Of course, while it's called a lake, it really isn't; maybe the grand name comes from its being the largest non-swamp body of water in town. So it only took us about four minutes to get from one side to the other. Never mind: we weren't there to get places, we were there to have fun! We visited the island that has always intrigued us by being just out of reach, even for a determined wader (though out of respect for the beavers who live in the two lodges on the island—lodges that take up more than half of it's total area—we didn't land). We climbed on the cliffs and played tag on the field. And we marooned Zion on a rock that was barely awash (he volunteered).

Zion standing on a tiny rock out in the lake

walking on water!

Best of all, the two bigger boys had a chance to take the boat our on their own. Harvey's done plenty of that sort of thing already—he knows he wants a boat of his own so he doesn't have to put up with the rest of us, and he's made sure to get lots of practice. But it was newer for Zion. He had a great time!

Zion paddling the canoe by himself

out there

Of course, as much as I enjoyed being on the water, when we landed I couldn't help looking at some of the paths and rocks and wishing I had my bike there to try and ride them. Never mind—that's tomorrow's adventure!

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kicking off adventure season

At the end of last week we took three bike rides in three days, covering a total of more than 15 miles. Saturday saw us journeying up the bike path to Lexington, where we played on a skate park and a playground and a mountain and bought some Pokemon cards. On Friday two sevenths of our school population was absent, so after lunch we took off for an easy ride through the woods up to the center of town where we rode some stairs and ramps and then played at the playground (the kids took part in a fantastic tag game that deserves its own post). But it was our Thursday off-road adventure that was the most epic! Not for mileage—we went twice as far on the smooth pavement Saturday—but certainly for difficulty. And it's always thrilling to penetrate into the wilderness to reach the remote waters of Fairhaven Bay!

the boys dipping their feet in Fairhaven Bay, wearing bike helmets

testing its soothing waters (is it called soothing when you can't feel your feet?)

At the beginning of the week Thursday's forecast called for warm weather, so we gleefully scheduled our first mountain bike exploration trip of the year—and Elijah's first ever on his new bike. As the week passed, we only got more excited, and it was with lots of enthusiasm and supplies that we set off at mid morning (you have to time these trips for the optimal picnic lunch experience). We got off to a good start when, with his brand-new gears, Elijah was able to surmount the steep paved hill that leads from the parking lot to the trailhead. But then, when we reached the woods, we were dismayed to see that the trail was still a sheet of ice with snow stretching as far as the eye could see on either side. I'd like to say we pressed on undaunted, but a certain member of the party was very daunted indeed. (It's because he fell first that Zion had such a hard time; that, and the fact that Elijah didn't fall.)

But I refused to turn around and go home, and riding over the slightly slushy ice—and the kids actually did wonderfully well!—we soon came to a stretch of clear, dry trail. What a delight! Then more ice, but at least we knew that the ride wouldn't be all slow and terrifying. It was interesting: on the way in we were heading south, so all the uphills—north-facing slopes—were icy, but the downhills mostly clear. Of course on the way home it was the reverse. There was also some just plain snow, which was almost impossible to ride on even on the flat. Certainly Elijah also got lots of practice pushing his new bike too.

Elijah pushing his bike uphill on a snowy trail

hike-a-bike

What that picture doesn't show is how warm it was. At the beginning of the ride it was actually a little chillier than we anticipated, under cloudy skies, but after lunch the sun came out in it was soon positively spring-like. Perfect weather for adventuring, and adventure we did: besides the riding we got to explore the marsh around the boathouse, play hide-and-seek and tag, and climb dangerously high in trees.

Zion way up high on a fallen tree

good thing he's wearing the helmet?

With the sunshine we hoped the snow would go quickly and ease our way home; when I said that, in the heat, it was melting "as we speak" Elijah made sure to do lots of talking to hurry it along. But there was still enough left to make the homeward leg (on a different path around Fairhaven Hill because of course we like to do loops) pretty tiring. Especially for Elijah. And when the road through the woods, hoped and dreamed of as an easy mile, proved to be muddy and slow he was almost undone. He actually revived a little bit when we got back on the snow and ice and did some really fantastic riding. But when took a spill into a puddle about a quarter mile from the car and got actually soaked, he was done, and it was with great difficulty that I persuaded him to get back on the bike at all. Then he abandoned it in the snow about 100 yards short of the parking lot, but that was find. I got it for him; he had done enough!

It was tiring for everyone: Strava says I put in 6.1 miles, which includes some running around and also the extra riding I had to do when I realized I'd left my water bottle behind at the lunch spot, so the boys must have done about 5. And they were hard miles! But despite all that, I think we might be game for another big ride soon. These kids are fine cyclists. And at least the snow should be gone by the end of the week!

the boys pausing on their bikes on a snowy trail

accomplished adventurers

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backwoods sledding

As I mentioned, the boys and I ventured out yesterday afternoon for some backwoods sledding. We love sledding, but even after 16 years in Bedford I never located a favorite local sledding spot. The two places we know in Lexington are so good, to say nothing of our friends' hill in Chelmsford. But there's definitely something to be said about being able to hit the slopes without 40 minutes of driving, round trip. What if we were to exchange that driving for a little bit of walking in the woods?

That was my thought early this winter, when the first snowfall made me see a hill by the airport in a different light. Unlike most of Bedford's hills, which are forested, this one is kept clear by the airport folks because it's just in line with the runway. It's not super long, but it does have one steep drop and when I saw it with snow on it I figured right away that it would be worth a try. Of course, right after that the snow melted and we didn't get any more for all of January. But it's back now!

the view from the top of the sledding hill down towards the airport

at the top of the hill

Just like the day before, we were faced with deep snow on unbroken trail. Even worse for morale, someone else had started in from where we parked and then given up after 25 yards and turned back. But we're made of sterner stuff, and even with the deep snow even Elijah marched on strongly into the woods.

on the trail pulling sleds through the woods

mushing

It was maybe longer than we remembered getting up to the hill—last time having been under somewhat easier conditions—but moving as slow as we were let us notice opportunities along the way for some warm-up runs. It's not often we get to try glade sledding!

Harvey and Zion toboganning down a path in the woods

they could sell tickets for this!

Despite the beautiful spot the snow was actually pretty disappointing, being both deep and sticky, and there was a little grumbling and unhappiness among the party. But we pushed on, and eventually came to the open space atop the hill, where we traversed across like explorers crossing High Greenland. And when we reached the steep part I'd been looking forward to trying since December our long journey felt well worth it! After just a couple runs we had a smooth trail laid down, and could take our fill of thrilling, if short, plunges down the steep side of the hill. And it was fine that they were short, because otherwise getting back up the hill would have been too much work!

Zion and Lijah walking across a snowy field

to the main event

Besides the sledding, there were also snowcovered rocks to climb up and jump off of, and planes to watch, and we spent a happy hour enjoying all those things. Then suddenly we were done—wet, and cold, and tired—and we were glad it was mostly downhill on the way home. That made pulling Elijah on the sled almost easy! We're looking forward to going back for more soon, and especially to knowing that next time will be even better: I expect never to see snow this sticky ever again.

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walking (and walking and walking) in a winter wonderland

Yesterday afternoon I took the dogs out for a walk in my favorite woods. It was maybe a little ambitious, given that it had snowed 18 inches the day before, but I figured—to the extent that I thought about it at all—somebody probably would have broken a trail in the more than 24 hours since the snow had stopped. That was not the case. Climbing over the pile left by the plow to get into the woods I sank up to my waist, which set the tone for the next hour.

It was strange snow we got in this storm. It has some fluff to it—it must have to accumulate so high just overnight!—but it's also super wet. The shoveling was easy where the snow was undisturbed, but where it had been stepped on or even brushed off somewhere else and fallen in a pile it was practically solid. And walking on it on the trail was kind of like I imagine it would feel to wade through not-quite-set concrete.

As I made my slow and laborious way, it occurred to me that one feature I like about the woods by the airport is the length of the loops. So the shortest one we could take would still be longer than I would have really liked. But of course I would never dream of turning back. It's loop or nothing! So on we trudged (or I trudged; the dogs bounded). At least it was very pretty!

the dogs ahead of me in the snowy woods

beautiful and exhausting

(That's from one brief section of trail broken by a skier... the only place I had the energy to take out my phone for a picture.)

In trying to stick to the shortest way around I ventured onto a trail that I don't often take, and after a little ways found that it had disappeared. With the snow bending all the trees over everything looked so different! There was no going back, though, so since I knew the direction of the main trail we just pushed ahead between the trees. I could play up the drama, but really the woods aren't that big and I knew I'd come to a landmark I recognized before long; sure enough, after only five minutes or so of bushwhacking we were back on a recognizable trail—unbroken trail, of course, but at least I knew exactly where I was.

Only where I was was a section of the trail that's been ruined by 4-wheelers and is nothing but a series of muddy holes that in the spring resembles nothing so much as a World War I battlefield. It was warm enough that I had a moment of concern for the ice over all those holes (some of which held up to 18 inches of water less than a month ago...), but I was so tired I couldn't do anything but push ahead on the shortest path. The dogs shared my concern, or maybe they were just tired of breaking trail, because they waited for me to go first.

I did fall in once or twice, but it hardly mattered since I was so wet already from the snow and from sweat. And at the end of the treacherous holes I came across a section of trail that had been broken by someone on snowshoes, and soon after that passed two actual other humans. Civilization was near! In another few minutes we were back at the car, where we all collapsed. I had to catch my breath for a bit before I felt safe to drive.

It was exercise the likes of which I hadn't got for a long time, and today my body didn't let me forget it: my calves especially are absolutely killing me. Of course it didn't help that I went back to the same woods this afternoon with the boys to explore some new sledding hills... but that's a story for another day.

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our first mountain

We've done lots of hiking this year—or walking in the woods, at least—but we haven't gone up any mountains. We usually save mountain climbing for our annual Maine vacation, but of course that didn't happen this summer. And anyways those are kind of mini-mountains: some fun and challenging climbs and impressive views, but not too much actual altitude (of course, when you're starting from sea level it all counts, but still). So when I heard from a neighbor that his fourth- and first-graders were climbing local mountains this fall I thought right away that it was something we might try too. Last week we started with the littlest closest one, Mount Wachusett.

the boys resting on a rock on the way up Mt Wachusett

mountaineers

Not having done anything like this before, I spent hours pouring over maps and guidebooks—or the online version, at least. I love OpenStreetMaps, but it doesn't have any context for the trails it shows, and it's terrible at locating parking. So I also used the official Massachusetts State Parks page, plus some guidance from other websites with details about particular trails. Nobody writes that kind of thing about places like the October Farm Riverfront (they should! I should!) but it turns out that lots of people like talking about climbing mountains. It made me much more confident in setting out last Thursday morning bright and early for the hour-long trip to the base of the mighty peak.

We got a new audiobook for the drive—The House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones—so the trip went quickly. When we reached it we marveled at the ski slopes as we drove by, then stopped briefly at the visitor center to pick up a trail map in case I didn't have cell service for at any point on the trip. It would have been less brief but the visitor center was closed—even the portapotties!—so we piled back in the car for the two minute drive to the parking lot at the trailhead where we wanted to go up.

My thought was to go up the steepest trail on the mountain, because Lijah likes mountain climbing quite a bit more than hiking, at least when he's primed with the expectation of being on an actual mountain. But I wanted to do a loop down (especially since that steepest way is only half a mile to the top!), and I didn't want to get up to the top right away and then have a long walk to finish off. So even through there's a lot at the bottom of the steep trail, we parked about a mile away and started off with a walk on a trail parallel to the road. Judging by the map I had thought it would be pretty flat, but it actually went up a fair grade, in addition to being made of boulders for much of the route. It felt delightfully mountainy! After that, though, the turn onto the steep path up was something of a disappointment when we saw that it was all stairs. At least for the second half the woods thinned out a bit and we could chose to walk on the bare rocks beside the stairs—which of course we did.

There was some disappointment at the summit too: even though I'd told them what to expect, the boys were a little dismayed to see the parking lot and the observation tower and all the people—yes, even on a weekday morning the top of Wachusett was a little crowded. But when we started to pay attention to the views I finally got the kids to understand that they were actually up higher than they had ever been before in their lives. That was cool in its own right, and it also meant that we could see pretty far (even though it was frustratingly hazy for October). There were four signs around the observation deck with labeled pictures of the landmarks you could see in each direction; spotting the tall buildings way off in Boston was pretty cool, but the massing mountains of Vermont were the most exciting. We could see Vermont! A magical place that they'd barely ever thought about before! Then we found a quiet spot to have lunch. Quiet in that is was out of the way of people, that is; the wind was plenty loud! Oh yeah, I forgot to say that whatever other ways it was lacking as a mountaintop Wachusett certainly provided an appropriate amount of summit wind.

the boys walking on rocks through a sun-dappled pine wood

the path down

The way down was longer than the way up, and more interesting. If I were to do the mountain again—which frankly I can't imagine doing, unless friends want to go with us—I'd definitely go up that way and down yet another way. We passed through different types of woods and one small meadow orchard, and took a little detour to visit the grandly named Echo Lake (pretty, but smaller than most ponds we know). Then it was an easy walk back to the car. The whole thing was far from the longest hike we've ever done, even outside of camping, and when after looking at the clearing haze I jokingly suggested going back up to take another look at the distant hills Harvey was ready to go for it. Really, we all could have made it back to the summit pretty easily a second time. But we did have obligations for later in the afternoon, and the audiobook was calling, so we were all happy enough to head for home... thinking about the next mountain we might climb. "How much higher is Mount Washington?" Harvey wanted to know.

distant Mt Monadnock from the summit of Wachusett

looking away to Mt Monadnock... a more realistic next goal!

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riders in the dark

It was inevitable, and today it happened: our efficiency at getting out the door for a pre-breakfast ride, together with the ever-lengthening winter darkness, meant that Harvey, Zion, and I reached the trails while it was still just about pitch dark this morning. Never mind: we were prepared with headlamps! Riding trails in the dark for the first time was quite an adventure. I felt like I could chose between watching the twists and turns of the trail ahead, or keep track of the rocks and roots under my feet—but not both! All of us took a spill or two, but nothing too serious. I for one appreciated the way the darkness made the trails I know so well seem new again, and it was even more interesting because my memories of the lines I knew I should be taking but couldn't see felt like something I'd learned in a dream. Then the sun came up and it was just like a regular ride—which is pretty good.

Harvey and Zion riding a gravel road at dawn, with headlamps

it was darker in real life

multimodal exploration of Fairhaven Bay

A week or two ago we set out to explore a new bit of land, spanning Concord and Sudbury between Walden Pond and the river. We started out by visiting Mount Misery, as described here; that was fun, but we didn't actually make it into Adams Woods or Wright Woods, where I had actually thought of visiting. So I searched for an alternative entrance to the Wright Woods and found a closer way in, off of Sudbury Rd in Concord. Our first trip there turned into an epic two-hour walk around Fairhaven Hill, with many delightful sights along the way.

Blue looking out at Fairhaven Bay from by the boathouse

Blue looks at the Bay

One highlight was Fairhaven Bay, and the old boathouse looking out over this unexpected stretch of open water in the middle of the Sudbury River. The path went by an old boathouse, which was a lovely place to stop for a snack; we only we could have found some way to get into it! We also enjoyed climbing on an old ruined chimney (pictured here) and scrambling on some rocky cliffs above the river.

Harvey and Elijah on rocks above a steep hillside

cliffs are hard to photograph

Writing on the internet suggested there were some cliffy trails to explore, but even though we walked for a while we didn't find them. A long while, actually: doing a loop all around Fairhaven Hill was maybe a bit much. We've been doing lots of hiking lately, though, so we all survived.

Harvey carrying Elijah piggypack in the woods

kind brother

A couple days later we revisited the woods, this time by water. We put the canoe in at a launch near Mount Misery (which required paddling through a very shallow, algae-infested channel) and headed downstream into Fairhaven Bay. On the way we passed by the beach where Zion swam on our first visit; it was even more fun reaching it by boat. Even though the weather was sunnier we were all happy enough to be on the water that nobody felt like it was necessary to go in it.

the canoe pulled up on a beach on the Sudbury River

beached

There was enough breeze to make paddling across the middle of Fairhaven Bay exciting; you don't expect waves like that on a river trip! It was a beautiful sparkling day though, and it felt absolutely delightful to be out on the water. We saw just one other group paddling, in a pair of canoes, and we greeted each other enthusiastically—just knowing we were both doing the loveliest possible thing at that particular moment.

Zion paddling the canoe in the middle of Fairhaven Bay

just the best

At the other side of the bay we reached the boathouse. I only wish there was a little more water, though, since right now the river is too low to get into it. The little streams coming out of the Adams woods were also impassible due to low water, but around them we saw lots of interesting birds.

cormorants, one spreading its wings, standing on the mud

there were also geese and swans

But while the boating was fun, it didn't get us any nearer to finding the big cliffs. And nobody wanted to walk all that way again. So this past Sunday we went back with bikes. And it turns out that the Wright Woods is great for cycling, with trails that are smooth enough for even Lijah's 16-inch wheels (though his fearlessness in attacking obstacles did lead to some nervous moments for me!) and plenty of fun downhill segments. And the cliffs! Approaching them we were forced off the bikes in short order.

the boys pushing their bikes up a steep hill

push!

That may not look all that steep in the picture, but I assure you that even at that point it was just about unrideable. And it got crazier! The scramble up the last bit was a challenge even on foot!

the boys scrambling up a steep gorge

we can do it!

Disappointingly, the top was a rich person's yard. They did have a very cool boat-shaped observation platform and a nice firepit, but it wasn't really a place for us to linger (though of course we did pause for water and snacks just below the top). Still, we felt like we had conquered a real climb!

distant hills as seen through trees from atop Fairhaven Hill

the view from the top

After all those trips, we now feel like those woods have been pretty comprehensively explored. But that doesn't mean that we're done there: now that we know the place, we're ready to go back and have some fun!

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visiting all the woods

This week we visited two new-to-us forest areas (so far!). On Wednesday we went to Wilderness Park Conservation Area for a quick walk; it's right here in Bedford, adjacent to Fawn Lake, but somehow we've never been there before. It's a nice little woods, with lots of interesting glacial rocks and a good-sized stream, Fawn Brook (well, it would be good-sized in a regular year; this month it's dry like everything else). We walked a loop counterclockwise, which was a good call because the first third of the walk was closed in with marshy brush and not particularly interesting—until we came on a wasp nest right in the path and Harvey and the dogs got stung. We detoured around it and in a little while reached some more fun, varied trails over on the other side.

Elijah looking down from a little bridge among rocks

we wish there was water!

Then yesterday we traveled to Lincoln with the intention of exploring the Adams Woods Conservation Land. At the suggestion of the Lincoln Conservation website we parked at the Mount Misery parking lot on Route 117, which meant of course that we had to climb it before we left that bit of land! It was appropriately steep, at least the way we chose to ascend, and there was a delightful shelter of sticks on the summit.

Elijah visible inside a teepee made of sticks

there are three boys and two dogs in there!

Besides the Mount, the woods there also had their own delightful streams (dry) and bridges, along with a few ponds and some steep ridges (all apparently part of the glacier-created kettle landscape, which we learned some about this morning). Half of the woods was remarkably open, with nothing but white pines every 20 feet or so but with canopies big enough to touch and leave the pine needly forest floor in shadow. It made us want to build some bike trails in there.

Harvey and Zion on a bigger bridge

plenty of points of interest

Like I said, my hope was to walk through the Mount Misery area to access Adams Woods, but that turns out to have been overly ambitious. It's actually kind of a trek. Even worse, the dogs had to be leashed for lots of the way, and that's no fun for anyone. So we turned back short of the goal. That was ok, because on the way back we went a different way that passed by the biggest kettle hole, and we also had time for a short detour to the Sudbury River. Three of us were too tired to engage much with it, but the dogs are always game for a swim; their example encouraged Zion to take off enough clothes to really get in and enjoy the water.

Zion almost submerged in the Sudbury River

how's the water?

Then on the short walk back to the car we talked about what, besides towels, would be useful to include in an emergency pack that we could bring everywhere with us. It was an exciting enough discussion that we're all ready to tackle another new woods soon... with better supplies!

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in the woods

Without scheduled Zoom activities this week the boys and I have had more time for outings, and we've taken some good ones! On Tuesday we took the dogs to woods between the airport and the Reformatory Branch trail (which go by many names; in less than two hours of walking we passed through three or possibly four conservation areas). We took a route we'd never explored before, and in fact passed through some areas that are usually so wet as to be impassible. The one upside of the drought—though even then there was still enough mud that Harvey got covered nearly up to his knees chasing frogs. We weren't even trying to do anything more than walk the dogs, but it ended up feeling pretty epic!

the boys and dogs atop a big rock in the woods

co-kings of the world

Then yesterday we set out to have a little bit more of an adventure in a new-to-us woods, the October Farm Riverfront in Concord: maybe half a mile as the crow flies from where we were the day before, but five or miles away by road. Because the river! We were delighted to find a varied landscape of steep hills, marshes, and vernal pools—and, of course, the river.

the boys playing in the trees along the shores of the Concord River

river work

Actually, Lijah wasn't delighted at first—he was cold. The day was fall-like and he regretted his shorts and sandals. Running up and down the hills helped a little, and then it warmed up and he got distracted by fun things to explore and climb on, like this mysterious structure built into the side of the hill.

Elijah atop a stone shed dug into a hill, Zion at the base

what is it for? who knows, let's climb on it!

Plus there were all the things to notice and pick up: oak galls, mussel shells, blue jay feathers. Frogs—not that they had any luck with the river frogs, but they sure had fun trying! Toads are easier game, we find. The other day a friend who runs a leadership consulting business offered the idea of "forest bathing" in his weekly email; the idea is that the "sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air—these things give us a sense of comfort." I'm not sure if we were doing it right, but it sure did feel good to spend some hours and miles out in the woods!

Harvey holding a tiny toad

the one that didn't get away (until he let it)

a river mussel shell

fresh-water mussel

a great blue heron on the other side of the river

can you see the heron?

a red and white mushroom

we watched to see if smurfs would come out

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