posts tagged with 'outing'

can you miss people you see three times a week?

One thing that helped us survive a week without our bubble school friends was a chance to hang out with different friends for the first time in over a year. While we see lots of them over Zoom—the kids do things together online three or four times a week!—they have an immunocompromised family member so they've been quarantining hard since February 2020. But now the vaccine has opened their horizons a little bit and we were able to take an expedition with them on Thursday afternoon. We drove to their house and then biked all together to Great Brook Farm: a short ride for the sake of the youngest cyclist, new to her own two wheels, but one that gave us a new sort of challenge as we navigated the high speed auto traffic of Concord Road in Chelmsford. We survived! And then we were glad to take to the trails at Great Brook.

It wasn't all cycling though. We spent lots of time watching and chasing the bullfrog tadpoles in the pond and comparing notes with another aspiring zoologist, a boy who approached the kids looking to play—and who turned out to be a long-ago member of our church community group. That was like six or seven years ago and he's only eight, so it didn't really matter to their interaction, but it was still a fun coincidence. We also jumped onto and over some horse jumps for a surprisingly long time; and, most importantly, the nine-year-olds had time to wrestle a little bit. You can't do that over Zoom! We were masked up of course, but it was still a wonderful opportunity for connection that we were missing. The only problem was that it was so much fun I didn't take any pictures of the kids playing together! Oh well, we'll have to do it again soon.

visit to the potato cave

Often when we're thinking about where to go for a walk Elijah asks if we can visit the potato cave. He's talking about an old root cellar or prehistoric dwelling in the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area in Acton. Friends introduced us to its splendors last spring and we've been back a couple times, but not as much has Lijah would like: because it's almost half an hour away. As nice as it is—and not just for the cave—there are lots of other nice woods in between here and there. But yesterday, when we needed to be out of the house for a while for Leah to do a podcast recording, seemed like a fine time for a return voyage. Plus we'd never been there in the snow!

the boys and dogs approaching the mouth of the cave

the main attraction

Now that the weather's turned warmer the snow can be squashy and lots more tiring to walk in, but yesterday afternoon at least the footing was fine and we could go at a good pace. But enough snow was melting that Nashoba Brook—which is really a river, at least compared to the brooks by our house—was roaring cheerfully. After I pulled the boys away from the cave, which doesn't hold as much interest for me or the dogs as it does for them, the water provided some interest as we went along. So, for them, did talking about Minecraft. Sometimes I wonder how much of the outdoors they really experience, when in their minds they're deep in the world of blocky fantasy. But that's fine, they're moving anyways—and let me say, Harvey and Zion are good walkers these days! And with the bright sunshine on the melting snow and the water rushing in the brook, even the most dedicated gamers can pause for a moment to soak it all in.

the boys looking over the railing of a bridge at Nashoba Brook

and enjoy the winter sun

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we're hardy folk

It got cold this past weekend. Not super cold, like single digits, but certainly lots colder than it has been for a while now. Which is hard when we're not used to it; also, cold feels colder when there's moisture in the air, which is the case when the temperature takes a sudden drop. But we didn't want to let winter being winter keep us from playing outside this weekend! Saturday morning, Harvey and I started the day with a couple hours of riding the trails in Landlocked Forest (the good thing about below-freezing weather is no more mud!). We were chilly as we got started but warmed up well before too long. Then after lunch the smaller boys and I rode up to the skate park to meet some friends. By that time there were clouds threatening the sun and the breeze was picking up, so there were moments when saner folks wondered if it was time to go home—or at least reminded their kids to keep their hoods up. Zion took off his shoes for better traction climbing on the half-pipe. Between the skate park and the playground we were out for close to two hours and had a lovely time.

Then yesterday other friends invited us to join them at Great Brook Farm for a hike. Seems they'd had plans to meet another family there, but when they backed out citing the cold weather we got the call. Because you know that if you ever need a cold-insensitive B-list family, we're there for you! In the sunshine it was actually quite pleasant and we all had a fine time sliding on the ice and climbing on the rocks. In fact, Elijah's friend even fell waist-deep into the icy water fully half a mile from the parking lot, and he didn't die! I will say, though, that while we are pretty hardy, I'm glad it wasn't any of my boys who went in. Cold air is one thing, but we do have limits!

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wet weather? let's go to the ocean!

It's been sunny and beautiful for at least parts of the last couple days, so of course when it turned gray and rainy we headed out to visit the ocean!

the boys by the shore at Good Harbor beach under gray skies

perfect beach weather

Actually, the timing wasn't really deliberate like that. It's just that we have a lot on our schedule, actually, and it's been a couple months since we've been any distance from home; so when last weekend I saw that Thursday was free I put a trip out to Cape Ann on the calendar. In my defense, the forecast at that point called for sun! Not that we minded the light drizzle—we're that hardcore, and we'd actually much rather have rain than crowds.

Our first stop of the day was the rocks along Atlantic Ave, where, before we did anything else, we had lunch (we got a late start because there was lots of school work to do first—like I said, busy schedule!). It turns out it's cold at the ocean; at least two of us wished for warmer clothes (not me! nobody dresses warmer that I do). But as soon as we finished lunch, an hour of climbing around the amazing rocks warmed us right up. Nobody died, either. When Elijah fell on his face it wasn't from 25 feet above jagged rocks, which had been my fear.

Zion and Elijah looking down at white water from orange rocks

looks perfectly safe, right?

Then just as we were about done with the rocks, Harvey found a piece of sea glass, and then another one. I don't know if you're aware, but sea glass is rare in New England these days—maybe the only downside of people no longer routinely throwing their garbage into the ocean. So his find touched off a sea glass gold rush, and each of us got at least a dozen pieces. Lijah and I are going to combine our hoards and display them in a jar.

Next we went to Good Harbor beach. The tide was rushing out beautifully under the bridge and it wasn't at all crowded, but the boys were getting a little tired—and it turns out that without a full tank of physical and emotional energy the water's a little too cold mid-January to do much wading. We did find—and walk through—some very interesting sandy mud: it was almost fluffy, with a consistency like slush to a depth of three or four inches. It's lucky there was something harder underneath, or we would have sunk to our deaths!

We ended the outing with a visit to Rockport. We walked around town and out to the tip of Bearskin Neck, admiring all the closed stores and their range of varied and clever please-wear-a-mask signs. Then on the way back to the car we stopped at the candy store where we bought some fudge...eventually. It was actually kind of hard to come to a decision about what to get. It may be that she felt sorry for us or just that she's a wonderful human being, but the woman running the store also gave us—for free, gratis!—a bag of chocolate-covered swedish fish. I had no idea such a thing had ever been even contemplated, but they actually aren't bad! It helps that Tuck's Candy has, as well as wonderful generosity, really good milk chocolate. Tuck's Candy—check em out if you're in the area!

Then we went home. On the drive, both ways, we listened to an audiobook about Martin Luther King Jr. Because, you know us, that's how serious we are about school work!

Oh, I almost forgot the best part of going to the ocean in the winter! Even better than the empty roads and beaches: we found ice among the rocks! It may have been small, but our rink by the water was, for fifteen minutes at least, just about the best thing ever.

Zion and Elijah sliding on a patch of ice among rocks by the ocean

our two favorite things, together at last!

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winter beach beauty

On Saturday we celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents by taking a walk on the beach. That hasn't been part of our traditional observances in the past, but you know, this isn't a traditional year. It was my mom's idea, but we picked the beach: Good Harbor. They'd never been; we're somewhat familiar. The boys and I were last there a year ago, and Harvey was first there before he really knew what was going on. As always, it was beautiful beach weather.

the boys and dogs near the water at Good Harbor beach

we're at the beach!

Within two minutes of crossing the bridge to the sand, Zion had fallen in. That set the tone for the outing: all the boys got pretty wet, despite having their boots on most of the time. Boots only work when they're taller than the water is deep.

Zion and Elijah in the water, with a wave washing over Lijah's boots

look out Elijah!

Zion especially had to stop occasionally to bale.

Zion pouring water out of his boot, Grandpa looking on

it'll be fine when he gets the water out, right?

Not that anybody minded wet boots or pants. They were having fun! The dogs, of course, had no trouble at all.

the dogs running in the waves

yay for wet paws

Grandma and Grandpa were very patient with the slow pace of our progress down the beach. It was lovely to see them, and we even talked a little bit about what we'd eaten for Thanksgiving to make it seem like a real holiday thing. I don't know that the beach will be my first choice for Thanksgiving next year, but I'm certainly sold on visiting it in November.

the dogs standing on the rocks by the ocean

beautiful

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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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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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our school at home

The Monday after Labor Day seems like as fine a day as any to kick off our fall season of school at home, so that's what we did today. Not that you'd notice, necessarily, if you didn't know us and just happened to pop in. We started things off after breakfast with a chat about what learning means, and what school means, and how there's lots of learning outside of a teacher-student relationship, and how it's also sometimes good to do some formal study and practice. You know, to lay the groundwork. Then we went outside to see if we could spot any signs of monarch butterflies on our milkweed plants. We found plenty of chewed-on leaves and one egg, but no caterpillars. We also observed various other flowers around the yard and thought about how much butterflies might like different types (we noticed that, this morning at least, many many bumblebees were enjoying the goldenrod). We made a yellow and purple bouquet to bring inside.

Then I had a Zoom meeting for work to attend, and the boys did a little writing and drawing. Bedford schools aren't in session yet so before long a friend stopped by, and they went out to play for a while. After lunch we did a little cleaning, then we headed of for our first homeschool co-op outing of the fall: a hike at the October Farm Riverfront (I wanted to do something with people today, since yesterday marked six months since Covid shut down our co-op in the spring). Not everybody is ready to do that sort of thing yet, though, and even those who are aren't really organized yet. So only one other family joined us. Never mind, we had a great time playing in the river and the mud and on the hills, and noticing grasshoppers, stick insects, poison ivy, frogs, and oak galls (and collecting, temporarily, examples of all of those except poison ivy). We also brought home rocks, sticks, mussel shells, and broken glass; we saw racoon tracks, but couldn't think how to collect them short of photographing them. Oh, and we also saw herons and egrets. No attempt was made at capturing either.

Nowhere in there did we do any math, despite it being the top-listed attraction of school at home for two of the three boys (Harvey said he was most interested in music learning). So there's still plenty to look forward to for tomorrow!

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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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hiking and swimming

the boys splashing in Berry Pond

splish splash

We had a flexible morning yesterday. We woke up thinking we were going to meet friends at Walden Pond at 10, but we learned before breakfast that they weren't actually able to make it. Then a different friend invited us to Berry Pond, only to cancel at the last minute (with justification: she was going into labor!). At that point we were already in the car, so we headed off to the pond by ourselves. It wasn't easy to get there: the storm the day before hit the towns to the north of us pretty hard, and not only did we need to take a detour for a crew clearing a downed tree, there was another detour on our detour! But we got there eventually, to find that we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Because now we weren't meeting a nine-months pregnant mama with a kid in a stroller, we got warmed up for our beach time with a little hike. Berry Pond is in Harold Parker State Forest—tucked up at the edge of the sprawling preserve—and the forest is just packed with trails. We followed one pretty much at random, and while there was some nervousness from some of the party about just how long our loop would be, it ended up being a beautiful hike.

the boys hiking a trail along the side of a hill among evergreens

adventurous terrain

When we got back to the pond it was still empty, and we were hot and sweaty enough to appreciate the chilliness of the water. Berry Pond is smaller than Walden and the water isn't as clear, but despite being in a pretty regular suburban town it feels much more like a backwoods mountain swimming hole. If it weren't for the ropes restricting swimming to just a tiny area around the beach, it would be amazing. Just look at those rocks on the other side! No swimming there, sadly.

Harvey and Zion playing by the ropes in the otherwise empty Berry Pond

the beautiful waters

As we ate lunch the beach started to fill up—by which I mean three or four other groups arrived. No worries, there was still plenty of space for us to make an epic sand castle city. It was a good warm up for our planned trip to the Cape next week, because there were no waves or tide to threaten our city walls; except when someone splashed too close, that is. We lost the lighthouse on the point that way, but never mind, we quickly rebuilt it.

Lijah putting the finishing touches on a big sand city

finishing touches

While we would have loved to spend some quality time swimming with friends, it was also nice to have an quiet outing just with us boys. We're trying to collect our thoughts as we get ready to head into the new "school year" and the way everything played out was just fine for an easy and relaxing outing. We'll take it.

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