Every summer we're excited to ditch our rain and snow boots and enjoy being outside again. Though the warm weather finally gets me out of the house and into the great outdoors, I rarely feel in tune with nature where we live. Usually our family and friends head to the pool, the park, or the suburban walking trails that run by Starbucks and the football stadium. Other times we lug out the stroller and pound the pavement to our favorite ice cream parlour or loiter on sidewalks by coffee shops downtown. But this summer I realized how restricted my experience of the great outdoors has become. Our little family needed some natural stress release, and that meant ditching the manufactured environments we're used to in exchange for exploring the national parks near our home.
This past Labor Day weekend, we finally put aside my whiny baby concerns (but I don't have hiking boots! But we have a toddler! But… but…!) and drove out to the wilderness for a family adventure alongside cliffs and through caverns and rocky forests. We had a fun hike through the ledges of the Virginia Kendall Park in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northeast Ohio, and rewarded ourselves with a light picnic afterwards. It was the perfect family date—and you guys, besides the gasoline for our car, it was completely free! Can't beat that.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is full of great trails, bike paths, and historical spots that wind around the Erie Canal. I'd like to head back out to the Virginia Kendall trails again soon and hike by my lonesome for some extra soul rejuvenation, but it was really an enriching experience for our little family to go on such a hike with our toddler Lucy in tow. I was worried she wouldn't like being in the Ergobaby carrier for so long, or that my experience would be dampened by a whiny toddler who might try to jump over all of the cliffs. Talk about a bummer, eh?
Well, we were pleasantly surprised that Lucy loved being in the Ergo during the dangerous parts of our hike (along cliffs and over bridges), excitedly pointing and nodding her head as we talked about the rivers and caverns below. When we let her down on the lower parts of the trails to scale small rocks and collect pebbles from streams of water, she was absolutely elated. I realized how important experiences like this are for small children whose lives increasingly revolve around technology or manufactured environments that we're accustomed to in the suburbs and cities. Next time we'll definitely leave the camera at home, too, and see how many rocks Lucy can fit in my bag instead.
Nature really does have an amazing restorative power over the human soul, and I'd really like to make it a point to get out and experience it more often. The National Park Service has a website where you can find all kinds of great preserved natural sites near your home. I've discovered some of the best local places to explore just through word of mouth, but I wouldn't mind just finding a place online and heading out there without any expectations in mind.
One of my favorite things about exploring the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (our favorite local park) is the connection I feel to history when I'm there. Indians used to live near the caverns and caves where we hiked, and I like to imagine Mohawk women my age gathering supplies for their homes on the very paths we walk today. Maybe their young sons followed along, darting behind cliffs with their bows and arrows, pretending to be hunters like their fathers.
When the Erie Canal was built in the 1820s, it went right through this park and brought a lot of industry and trade that transformed the place that would one day become my home. The canal isn't in use any more, but the old buildings and towns that popped up around it are still oozing with the history of those days. I get chills when I walk through landscapes with such history, knowing there were countless other people who walked here before me, giving, taking, and transforming this place before I came along.
We packed a cooler and left it in our car during our hike, knowing the trail we set out on would circle back to where we began. National Parks are nice because while most of the park is still wild and untouched, there are also maintained restrooms, picnic tables, and mowed lawns to enjoy as well. We sat down along the tree line and enjoyed eating a light meal while Lucy ran around on the open lawn. We let her run around as much as she wanted while we sat in our shaded spot. It was a nice break from worrying if she might run near a cliff during out hike! No cliffs in sight. Just lots of trimmed grass and a lingering sense of peace from our hike.
What a fun day! I have a feeling if Lucy could find the words, she would be asking to go back again and again. –Mandi