Naomi, Hannah, Toby, Elijah and I walked through our subdivision and into a back entrance to the county park around 7:45pm. The weather was a perfect 72 degrees with low humidity and few mosquitos, and I began to feel glad to be out for a walk.
"Don't touch any of the weeds on the sides of the trail!" I called out, cautioning them about the poison ivy on either side of the narrow foot path, like I had warned them a hundred times before. We moved carefully along, single file, until we came out on the clearing by goal 19 of the frisbee golf course and skipped down the railroad-tie-lined stairs to a wooden bridge.
Filled with excitement, Elijah called out, "Hey, Toby! We're going down agent stairs! Agent stairs, Toby!"
"Really?" Naomi asked Elijah, "I didn't know these were spy stairs."
"Can you all stop yelling," I grumbled, "I'm afraid you're going to pop my eardrums."
"Don't worry, Mom," Toby comforted me, "it feels great when they pop."
Hannah had brought along some frozen peas to feed the duck family, so I tested Toby's navigational skills, asking him which way we should go to the find the ducks.
"Hmm…" he said, looking around, "my punctuations tell me that we should go this way."
"His punctuations?" Naomi laughed rolling her eyes, "I think you mean your calculations, Toby."
"Yeah," he nodded, "my calculations. Let's go!"
Toby's punctuations turned out to be correct and we soon arrived at the swamp, but the ducks weren't the least interested in our peas, so we headed off to explore some trails we hadn't been on before.
"I forgot to bring the map," I told the kids. Not the least bit worried myself, I teased them, "I hope we don't get lost in the woods overnight."
We soon found a long, wooden walk way that led us through a marsh, and followed a steep trail up a hill to a lookout.
We followed more trails and made our way farther into the park, but eventually I told the kids it was time to head home. The sun was getting lower and it was nearing bedtime.
"Let's see if the kids can lead us back home," I challenged them. "You can each take turns."
"Ooohhh, noooooo!" Toby whined, wilting like a parched flower, "I can't believe how lost we will be when Elijah leads."
"Hey," Hannah whispered, "Let's let Elijah lead us when we're on the wooden walk-way." They all giggled and agreed. Elijah was thrilled and never caught on to their scheme not to let him get us lost.
After the wooden bridge, it was Toby's turn to lead. The very first fork in the path that he came to, he chose the wrong direction. Naomi looked at me, knowing he was leading us the wrong way, but I shrugged and told her that it was generally the right direction. I thought I knew where he was headed and figured he couldn't get us too lost in a county park.
We happily traipsed along the trial beside the swampy woods in the dimming evening light. Toby soon realized that he had no clue where we were, and asked if we should turn around. "Nah," I said, "we'll pop out of the woods on the road soon. But when we finally did pop out, we were at a shelter house that I'd never seen before. That was the first time I realized I was turned around. The sky was cloudy, giving little hint of which direction held the fading sun. I could have called Matt and asked for directions, but I didn't want to have to do that, so I chose another trail through the woods that seemed to lead in the direction we needed to go.
By now Toby and Elijah were tired and worried. "Mom, is it possible we could actually get stuck in the woods all night?" Toby asked.
"No, buddy," I assured him, "I know where we're going." But I was losing my confidence. When that trail dead-ended at a "Private Property" sign, I actually started to worry. We had maybe thirty minutes of daylight left, and at least a mile to go to get back to our subdivision. We turned down another path with my steps quickening.
When we finally popped out in familiar territory, I sighed, "See, Toby, I knew where we were going. That was fun, wasn't it?"
"More like absolutely terrifying!" he retorted.
"I think I touched poison ivy," Elijah worried, "and you need to check me out for fleas."
Crossing a little bridge Hannah noticed a large, dead turtle floating upside down in the water. We all stood, peering over the bridge and trying not to gag at the rotting sight. "Where are its wings?" Elijah asked. I wasn't sure how to answer that.
Finally making our way back through the frisbee golf course, we met a deer, quietly standing and staring at us. We watched her and whispered, and quietly walked toward her. She flicked her ears and her tail at us and finally walked calmly into the woods.
Eventually we found goal 19 and the foot-path to our subdivision, stepping out onto the streets just as the streetlights were coming on.
"I can't believe Emma missed our adventure!" Hannah moaned. "We saw a really long wooden bridge, a huge hill, a deer, a dead turtle…"
"…agent stairs, fleas..." I added.
"…and we got LOST," she continued. Emma's going to be soooo sad!"
At last, after probably a four-mile walk, we stumbled into our home, only to find Matt and Emma happily challenging each other at a 1990s Super Nintendo soccer game.
"Oh man," Matt said, "You guys missed out."