Some of my earliest memories are of walking along earthen trails carved through the forest – birds calling, the rustle of leaves underfoot, the sense of adventure and anticipation as my eyes fall upon a place I’ve never seen. I remember jumping on slick stones across a creek bed, tree roots snaking their way across the trail and rocks jutting upward, just waiting to cause skinned-up knees from a little stumble. I remember my dad extending his hand toward me with a mound of wild berries piled high on his palm. “Try one,” he’d offer and I’d gladly indulge. I still love to explore.
Recently, when my dad veered off the paved path we were walking on and into the woods, I wasn’t surprised in the least. A line of us followed behind him like little ducklings in a row – Jackson on his heels, then me and Parker, followed by my mom. Our feet trotted over sticks and leaves as we carefully dodged thorns waiting to snag sleeves and skin. Soon we were right next to the river exploring a little paradise.
Jackson and Parker spent the next twenty minutes gathering stones, big and small, and tossing them into the flowing water. With each release, they listened for the distinct plop that marks a rock swallowed whole by a river. Then they ran off to search for more stones. They found sticks and dangled them into the water as they pretended to fish. They spied the first daffodils poking up through the softening earth. Jackson climbed up and down a tree limb. Cautious at first, he eventually mastered the hand and footwork so that he could tackle it mostly on his own, over and over again. Parker, ever eager to keep up with his big brother, climbed along the branch as well.
The adults joined in. Dad meandered up the bank and found an excellent hiding spot where exposed roots made an earthen seat. My mom helped the boys climb and bounce on branches. We noticed the timid green of early spring. We heard the rush of water around us. We took it all in.
Watching this close-to-home adventure unfold reminded me that discovery can happen nearly anywhere. Sometimes, I find myself feeling achey for a big adventure, for seeing a place far and away with my very own eyes. I long to sip another cold beer in a Colorado brewery after hiking in the Rockies. Or I wonder what it’s like to catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. I imagine a day of climbing all 3,000 stone steps to the top of Matchu Pitchu or exploring the wilderness of Patagonia.
However, today those adventures pale before the magic of two boys discovering a river. I remember that we are infinitely able to explore. Discoveries can happen near and far, inward and outward. Close to home, we discover that backyards hold a host of adventures, from collecting chicken eggs and planting a garden to baseball on the lawn and mysterious stones uncovered in the dirt. Nearby, we make discoveries along a lazy river, within the walls of a museum, or swaying on the front porch swing. Sometimes we dive inward, exploring our own hearts, our being, our beliefs, our minds as we read a book and are carried away to another time and place. Other times, we stretch outward. We make a friend, develop relationships, and connect with our communities. Each day, each moment is uncharted territory.
And truthfully, the best explorations happen with the ones you love. What a joy it is to see the delight of Jackson and Parker as they discover the river’s edge. What a joy it is to share this moment with my parents. There is nothing like watching kids do what kids do. I imagine my parents must feel the same way as they watch their grandchildren along the bank. They know my exact delight as they remember watching four little girls explore a generation ago. Now they watch another adventure unfold through the eyes of my boys.
Thank goodness for those long ago days romping through the woods. I didn’t know that as I was collecting those long ago memories, I was also finding bits of myself.