Defining Your Own PathPlaces to RoamRetreatsWith Kids in the Wild

Nature Lessons


The wild has been calling to me. The days of yesteryear when I worked as an adventure tour guide in the Outback have evaded me for too long. I seek out mud in my hair and caked dirt under my fingernails. I wish for the goose bumps that accompany sleeping under the stars while slightly underdressed for the night chill. I miss the excitement of having to shake out my sleeping bag to make sure no snakes have found a new home and the gentle ache in my belly from eating campfire ramen too many nights in a row.

So when my old college friend offered us her lakeside cabin to vacation in, it sounded like a dream. “No one has been inside in a few months. There may be a few creepy-crawlies.” The more the merrier! I’ve done this before. And I’ve done it in the Outback, where everything eagerly awaits the opportunity to murder you. And not like a kind murder with crushed-up sleeping pills but a slow, agonizing murder. I had conquered the Outback sleeping on my back. Surely, a cabin would hold no challenges.

But I forgot one thing. When I took on such an adventure before, I was childless.

“It’ll be fun,” I told myself. “A learning experience for the kids,” I said. “Family bonding time,” I said.

I lied. I will never trust myself again.

With my toddler and 6-month-old in tow, I headed off for my adventure in the wild. I’d be like Thoreau, and this would be my Walden Pond. With kids. I spent the better part of the plane ride telling my son about how bugs are good. We spoke of ladybugs and lightning bugs, and I encouraged him to catch them. Then I moved on to how to pinpoint snakes for when we would take our hikes, how to listen for their rustling and rattling and how to see their slithering.

My son was intrigued — enamored even. So I may have overdone it. What I forgot was that my child had only witnessed the wild through the glass of a zoo and in the pages of a book. A snake would be as real to him as Curious George is a monkey.

When we arrived on the property, my husband took the baby in the cabin while my toddler and I investigated the property.

Snake! Snake! Snake!! My son ran over to me from where he had been at the water’s edge and wrapped his arms around my legs. My senses went on high alert. I had been trained for this back when I was a guide. I scanned the property, looking for the snake. I saw a frog, so I knew the snake must be nearby, stalking it. I listened for the slithering or hissing, but it was hard to hear over the croaks. I started to get nervous. There was a snake in the grass — possibly a poisonous one — and I had no idea where it was. I picked up my son. If someone was getting bitten, it was going to be me.

I wanted to turn to leave, but too much time had passed since my son saw the snake. It could be anywhere. Before me. Behind me. Why couldn’t I see it?! Where was the snake?!

My son began screeching again.

Snake! Snake! Snake!

“Where?” I asked him. “Point it out to me!”

He pointed.

“By the frog? Where by the frog? To the left or right?”

He kept screaming and pointing. And now I was screaming, too. My heart racing.

“Where by the frog? Where? Where?! Oh, wait a minute. Do you mean the frog?”

He did. He meant the frog. My city slicker 3-year-old was nearly crying because he had seen a frog and thought it was a snake.

I set him down. I picked up the frog. I made my son pet it.

I took a deep breath. This was right. Visiting this cabin would be a good thing for us.

My son and I walked inside. My husband looked at me, looking slightly sick to his stomach. “Darling, we’ve got company.” The floors were covered with dead spiders, wasps and cockroaches being torn apart and consumed by living ants, spiders and cockroaches.

I spun in circles, taking it all in. This was the place where I was supposed to stay with my 6-month-old and toddler. Toddler. Where was my toddler? I turned to see him holding a dead cockroach. “Look, Mama! I caught a bug!”

I may have to work on my nature lessons.

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