The Case of the Disappearing Trail

Where we live here in Mid-Michigan there are a lot of hiking trails in the many parks run by the township and the county. With our youngest child now three and very active, I’ve made it my mission this summer to explore these trails. Walking the trails is fun. Walking the trails is interesting for the kids. It’s also a great way to get a little exercise for ourselves. That is, as long as there is an actual trail to follow.

Once each week we take a hike, trying a new and different trail. Nothing too long, because hiking with a three-year-old means I will end up carrying her for part of the hike, giving me an extra workout because kids don’t get lighter with age.

The other day we tried a new trail, one in our township’s very own “Central Park.” The kids were excited, racing across the parking lot toward the entrance to the trail in the woods as soon as they got out of the car. I had a map that I had printed out from the township website and we were all set. Even though the morning was on the cool side, I sprayed the kids and myself with bug spray just to be extra careful.

The trail started out like this,

Then became like this,

And then it disappeared altogether. Seriously. There were no signs. No well-worn or even vaguely-worn path.

According to the map, the trail should have gone north and then turned eastward to follow along next to the creek. Except nothing that even resembled a trail could be found. So I told the kids that we should head in the direction of the creek and see if we could pick up the trail again.

This involved carefully stepping our way through some tall grass and over dry marshland. This was not easy and I wondered if we should just turn back. But according to the map a trail was there. We worked our way slowly. When we finally reached the creek there was no trail to be discerned from the wild landscape.

“According to the map, the trail should be right here next to the creek,” I said.

Neither of my kids could see the creek because the grass was so tall next to it. So I lifted each one up and let them see the narrow, slow-flowing creek without a trail next to it.

“This is disappointing,” said my son.

“I know,” I said. “I’m disappointed, too.”

I also wanted to say a whole lot of other things. In my mind was a stream of invective longer, wider, and faster-moving than that creek. But then my impressionable young children would no doubt repeat all those things, things that other adults disapprove of small children saying.

This is a very real concern of mine. My daughter is currently going through a phase of shouting “darnit!” whenever she doesn’t get her way or saying “poopy” repeatedly in the service of her own silliness. The latter she often says with variations like “poop” or “poop-poop” or “poop-poopy,” adding a laugh. She says these “poop”-variations in the bathroom, in the living room, at the grocery store, and even at the dinner table with the frequency of those seagulls in Finding Nemo shouting “mine!”

So instead I said, “Things like this happen sometimes. Since we can’t find the trail, we’ll just have to go back the way we came.”

At which point my daughter asked for a snack. And I told her we would get a snack when we got back to the car.

Why are there no pictures of the non-trail? Because it’s impossible to take pictures with a camera phone while holding the hand of your three-year-old daughter, and using your other hand to help balance yourself and your daughter as you tread carefully over dry marshland. That means trying not to trip over downed branches hidden by dead grass and reeds. (At least I think they were reeds. I’m not biologist. They were yellow-ish brown, long and laying flat over most of the land.) Oh, and turning your head to check on the progress the six-year-old is making over the same terrain you’re having a difficult time navigating. He fell once but only got a tiny boo-boo.

Afterwards, I took the kids to the mall, where they played in the children’s play area, and then I bought them French fries and smoothies. They were great. Neither threw a tantrum over the trail that disappeared. They accepted it for what it was. Today we might try a different trail in that park. We’ll see.

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7 thoughts on “The Case of the Disappearing Trail

  1. I am proud of Henry for taking so well. You too!

  2. I guess the budget crisis means little maintenance of the trails. I wonder if there is a way to get deer to eat the trails or maybe deer only like your wife’s tomatoes.

    • My wife put up an eight foot fence around the tomatoes. So far, no deer have eaten those plants.

      But I hadn’t thought of the deer angle. Or maybe the township could get some sheep and herd them through the paths to mow down the grass.

  3. Endeavor to persevere. Sometimes you got to blaze your own trails.

    Just following the creek, getting “lost” in the woods, “finding” you way out — it’s all a great adventure! I think it’s great you’re introducing your kids to the fundamentals of woodcraft.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Jim, the kids loved it. And you’re right, these are great skills to learn. Sometimes in life the map you’ve been given is out of date or just plain wrong, so you have to find your own way.

  4. Pingback: Honest Errors | The Shape of Memories to Come

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