Sitting here with my laptop at the regional park while the boys try out a new trail on their mountain bikes. I already went for a walk and got bored. I’ve read my books and written in my journal. Here I sit, in the truck. You’d think I’d sit outside under a tree, but that’s less comfortable. There are creepy crawlies there that would draw my attention. I just can’t seem to relax. I’m happier in my pretty truck with the seat all the way back and my bare feet up in the window. The breeze is blowing through the trees and I can hear a few families nearby. The sounds of the city are intermingled with the chattering of squirrels, the staccato of woodpeckers, and various bird calls.
I’m glad we moved away from here. This used to be the only place I could escape the city streets and we’d come here often when the boys were little. The train ride around the park, an ice cream cone, and a walk around the pond was enough to wear them out. Sometimes we spend hours in the zoo looking at all the local animals. We read all the signs, fed the goats, and watched the animals do their thing. We’d play on the playgrounds and climb trees. We’d bring bikes and ride the trail that went around the whole park, stopping every hundred yards to check out something exciting on the side of the road; a nest, a bee hive, a dead squirrel. We’d sit in the shade and just watch. We’d sit beside the pond and try to get the ducks or peacocks to come up to us by sitting very still with a cracker in hand.
When my boys were young we had an “adventure backpack.” In it we kept a pair of binoculars, a cool hand-held microscope, a bandana with animal tracks on it, a few pamphlets about birds and animals native to our area, some snacks, and various other things we believed would be best to have on any adventure. There were always a couple of sketch pads and pencils. Occasionally, I had to clean it out when it became heavy with rocks, acorns, and other treasures.
I was reminded of all the fun we had when we came here because of the families I saw as I walked around the park. The whole train was filled with people, the zoo parking lot was full, a few paddle boats were on the pond, several families walked along the path together or rode bikes on the road. It’s not crowded by any means, but it’s busy for a Friday morning. It is still summer yet. When school starts in the next couple weeks it will be odd to see any children here on a weekday. It makes me sad.
For us, this was their “school.” Wait. It wasn’t school at all, it was real education. There wasn’t a moment they weren’t learning something very important and compared to that time spent here, school would have been a waste. A “field trip” here wouldn’t have been the same. Even having friends with us most days would have ruined it. There was something magical going on here every week. I had an inkling of it while it was happening. This vague joyous feeling that something wonderful was being built.
One day sticks out in my mind as extra special. There was a day when my boys wanted to ride their bikes very far, so we brought the bikes here and we set out to make the loop along the dry river bed. I told them to go as far as they liked but to stop at any forks in the road so we wouldn’t get separated. They were pretty young and new at riding bikes. I could still catch up fairly quickly. Off they went, full speed, their little blond heads under helmets bobbing up and down as they peddled their hearts out. It’s a long straight trail, so I could see them pretty far. I walked as fast as I could without running.
About ten minutes into the walk, they disappeared around the bend. I grew up at this park, so I know where things lead. This was about where the trails split; to the left, up the river bed and down into a wash, to the right, down into the parking lot and some tall trees. I was about twenty feet behind them as they made the turn. I quickened my pace. Would they stop at the fork? Or would they be so distracted by the “call of the wild” and continue up the trail or seek the refuge of the trees?
As I came around the bend myself a minute later, there they were, leaning over the handle bars of their bikes talking like two old friends. My son looks up, “Mom, I see NO forks but I didn’t want to get lost, so we waited here for you to catch up!” It never occurred to me that they didn’t know what a fork in the road was! “That way!” my younger son yells, pointing to the trees. It was getting hot and one mile of riding was enough for them.
We headed for the trees, the boys pushing hard on their small bikes across the grass. When we reached them, they threw the bikes down and collapsed on the grass spread eagle on their backs and I joined them. We lay in the shade looking up at the tree tops. “What kind of trees are these?” asks my older son. “They are eucalyptus trees,” I say. “Koala bears?” my younger son says. “Koala bears eat the leaves, but I don’t think we have koala bears at the park.” He stares up at the leaves hoping to see a koala bear. A woodpecker lands on the tree and begins to peck away. “What’s he looking for, Mom?” “Bugs,” I tell him. “The woodpeckers peck a hole and then put an acorn in it. Then they come back later and eat the bugs that have started to eat the acorn. They are acorn woodpeckers.” They attempt to make the same sound as the woodpecker and laugh hysterically. We break into the backpack for a bag of crackers and an apple. I tell them we should probably head home soon, Dad will wonder what happened to us if we don’t get home in time for dinner!
While I’m putting the bikes into the back of our truck, the boys scramble to climb into the backseat. Both ask for juice boxes as I buckle their seat belts. Driving across town back to the house, I’m thankful we’ve chosen a slower life and can enjoy days like this.
Today, as we came to the hill near the entrance of the park, my sons well into their teens, their mountain bikes loaded in the back of our truck, my younger son lights up when he sees the hill of brush and the sign to the park. “Now I remember this place!” He’s never one to be very wordy or excitable, so the outburst is a sure sign of nostalgia and excitement. We pay the entrance fee and pass by the ball fields, “Mmm…grass.” my older son comments. He’s always been a fan of grass, something we don’t see much of in the desert at home. I’m not sure they will want to make the one hundred mile drive out of the desert to ride here too often, actually, I’m hoping they don’t, but it was worth the drive today, just to remember it, just to see the look on their faces as they reminisce about their childhood. It makes my heart happy to know they already look back and think how great life has been so far.