Nowadays even just taking a walk is fraught with danger. I’d rather remember some from better days.
When my oldest was 3 years old, all he cared about was cars. His father and I tried to carry on conversations about the sights we were strolling past — which was OK with our son as long as the sights were vehicular in nature.
“Look, Sweetheart, an oak tree! Do you remember the squirrel with the acorns in the park?”
“One car, Mommy! Two cars! One car and one truck!”
“And that’s a maple tree; You remember the seeds that came down like helicopters from the sky? Those were maple tree seeds.”
“Car under a cover!”
“Yes, that car is under a cover. Maybe they don’t like the helicopters landing on it.”
A few years later, he and his younger brother were a little more interested in natural phenomena:
“Ants! Let’s step on them!”
“A spider! Let’s crush it before it can run under that rock!”
“A butterfly! Watch me catch it!”
“Boys, leave those poor creatures alone. Look, here’s a sweet gum tree. See the prickly seed pods all over the ground? No, don’t try to grind one under the stroller wheels. Give me that!”
“I want to grind one, too! I want one, I want one!”
“And that one’s a sycamore – you can tell by the peeling bark…”
“It even looks sick!”
“You mean, because the bark is peeling off? Actually, it’s supposed to look like that. You know, it’s the only tree whose bark you can peel.”
“What about that paperbark tree you showed us at Grandma’s house? You peeled that one, too.”
“You mean paper birch, and you’re right, I did peel it – OK, there are only two trees you can peel. But hey — not that much! Let’s look for more trees. That’s a Japanese maple…”
“That’s odd,” said my spouse.
“No, they grow all over the place here.”
“I mean it’s odd that they’re marking all the sewage lines when they’ve just finished re-paving this whole street. See? The blue spray-paint shows where the water main runs, the yellow is the natural gas, the green is the sewer. I wonder what they’re planning?”
“Sweetheart, this is supposed to be a nature walk for the kids. So could you please pick out something natural to show them?”
“Sewage is natural – OK, OK. Look, boys, see how the sidewalk has been pushed up here? What do you think did that?”
“Oh, oh, I know, Daddy. Tree roots?”
“That’s a very good guess, but actually it was a backhoe trying to fix something else.”
A little farther on I tried again. “What do you think that one is – a spruce tree? Or a fir?”
“A tree made of fur? That’s silly, Mommy!”
“No, I mean a kind of evergreen – what do you think, dear?”
“I think they’re putting in the optical cable sooner than they said. See those boxes up there? It looks like they’ve been going around changing them.”
“But what do you think about that tree? Do you think it’s a spruce?”
“I think it’s going to need trimming, it’s getting too close to the power lines. Hmm…three phases here, that’s quite unusual for a residential neighborhood. It’s coming across the street in this direction, see that’s the step-down transformer. I wonder where it’s coming from?”
So we followed the lines back to the power plant — which, we learned, was also where the snowplow trucks were parked. It wasn’t a conventional nature walk, but it did get us out of the house. And if we noticed things that James Audubon wouldn’t have sketched, I’m sure it’s only because he didn’t have the good fortune to be married to an engineer.