Plan your Link Trail hike!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Another quick hike with Dylan

During my last few visits to Oneida I hadn't had much time to spare, and the weather had been extremely cold, so my outings with my nephew Dylan had been limited to walks along Fairview. This weekend, though, I made a point to get out onto the Link Trail. I packed flashlights, got Dylan thoroughly bundled up in winter boots, plenty of layers, and ample forehead and ear protection, buckled him into the car, and set out for the trail. We parked beside Quarry Road and hiked westward toward the quarry, Dylan's favorite spot on the trail.

There were several inches of snow on the trail, which is rather a lot for a four-year-old, but Dylan made excellent progress. I knew that such a cold, silent, still day didn't afford the opportunities for teaching Dylan about nature that a summer day would, so I decided to focus on that very absence of summer things. I told him how we could see much more of the valley because the deciduous trees had lost their leaves, and pointed out the dark green clumps of coniferous trees across the valley that had not lost their needles. I told him how most, or maybe all, of the spiders we'd seen were dead, but their eggs were down in the leaves beneath the snow, waiting until spring to hatch. I asked him to listen for birds, and told him about migration. I told him how the frogs we saw were now hibernating, and tried to describe that concept. And I showed him some squirrels' nests that, again, we could now see because the leaves had fallen. This awareness of changes as facets of a grander continuity of natural cycles is something I always try to impart to him.

I'd set my countdown timer for about 25 minutes, because I figured that's when we should turn around if we were to make it back to the car before dark. The alarm went off just as we reached the quarry, I lifted up Dylan for a quick peek, and we headed back.

I'm a bit obsessive about finding the perfect walking stick, and I seem to be imparting this obsession to my nephew. Here and there a stick that might be just right for Dylan seemed to call out to me from the trail's edge, and I'd grab it, break it off to the appropriate length, and hand it over for testing. Of course Dylan has no notion yet of how to use a walking stick, so he mostly flails about with it in a way that actually makes him walk slower. But it's the thought that counts, right? And he sure does appreciate the thought. One of these days he'll be outdistancing me, stick or no, so for now I'm going to enjoy this period of contributing to his inchoate hiking skills.

Given the amount of snow on the trail, I was impressed with Dylan's speed. I kept drilling into him the importance of keeping a good pace in order to stay warm, and either it got through to him or he was just enthusiastic about hiking with Uncle Hugh. In any case, we made great time back to the car, and I got Dylan home on time - with his new walking stick!