An Autumn Hike with the Boys

Last Thursday and Friday, we had off from school. It's an annual Minnesota tradition called "MEA Weekend." It's supposed to be a time for Minnesota educators to get together for workshops and such. Our school has sometimes held it's own in-services during those days, but this year, we got them off (hooray!--it's been a bit of a stressful start to the school year, and I think our administration was cognizant of that fact when deciding to scrap the workshops). Apparently it's the most-traveled time in Minnesota--more so than Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The week had started out pretty nice--a pleasant autumn week in Minnesota. I was keeping an eye on the weather forecasts and knew it would get cooler. But still a few degrees above freezing. Barely. I had already been camping myself the week before and woke up to frost, and was willing to take that chance again. But I wasn't sure if the boys would be up to it. They'd camped in cold temperatures on our Spring Break trip, but they're sleeping bags aren't rated for as low temperatures as mine is. So I went back and forth between going and not going.

But I really liked the idea of going. Especially up north to a campsite on the north shore of Lake Superior where I hadn't been for a while. And getting out of the city again sounded good. I was convincing myself in my head that winter would be here soon and we'd be trapped in the city for a months upon end (which isn't really true, but I was capable of believing it was). So on Wednesday night I hastily pulled out all our camping gear and some food items that could get us by for two days. All we would need to do was grab some clothes and put everything in the car.

Thursday morning, though, reality hit. We were all a bit tired and needed extra sleep. And it clearly was a cold morning here; it would be a lot colder up north. I was doing this all for my own selfish reasons. There was a chance of rain coming through as well. Wet and cold aren't a pleasant mix for being outside for over 36 hours.

So I compromised. I put together a quick lunch for us and we left for a nearby state park that we hadn't explored yet. Of course, it wasn't that speedy of a process. The boys were in their mindset where they didn't want to go out. They just wanted to sit at home and play with Legos and video games. They get in this funk sometimes. Nature was their enemy. It was my desire. Knowing the weather wasn't going to get much better over the weekend, I pushed them into the car, praying for a change of attitudes.

By the time we got to Afton State Park, surrounding a ski hill nestled along the St. Croix River, their attitudes were only slightly better. A little food helped. A little time in the visitors center helped slightly more. Playing with leaves in a stream and finding sticks in the woods helped a lot more. By the time we reached the river to finish our lunches, they were in pretty good spirits.

After forty-five minutes of hiking along the beach and up the river, Anders discovered his best stick got left behind on the bench where we sat and ate (his brother's fault--not his--of course).

Admittedly, I was being a bit stubborn and didn't want to hike back there again--I wanted to see some new sites. He was also throwing a tantrum about it, and as a parental rule we don't give in to tantrums. It didn't matter to him that there were thousands of other sticks in the woods (we were standing right by a pile of several hundred at that instant). The one that got left behind was the perfect stick. There wouldn't be another one like it in the forest.

After many, many minutes of trying to get him to move on, we resumed our hike. Anders ran far ahead, showing he was mad, and we had a couple more tantrum stops, but there's nothing like a good hike uphill through the woods to help someone move on from a slump. The good thing about Anders being a poop is that Nils compensates and puts on his best behavior. But by the time we got up out of the woods into the upper prairie lands both of them were back into good moods. We enjoyed milkweeds, orange and red leaves, acorn collecting, spying turkey vultures high in the thermals rising over the river, and time together.

Swimming season has been over for a while now (though I guess it's been just five weeks or so since our last swim)--and it'll be a few months before we pay for the gym membership. It's been a few weeks since I've gotten in a good bike ride (for me I guess it's not as enjoyable to do long rides with a lot of clothes). For me the fall is hiking season. Beautiful sights, good exercise, and good time together with the boys (sometimes a solo hike is good, sometimes a family hike is good--you take what you need).

Snow flakes fell a few days ago. Just a few white specks in the sky that hit the windshield and disappeared before reaching the ground. But they were a reminder that autumn doesn't last long in this part of the country (last year we went straight from summer to winter it seemed).

The boys may say they hate hiking when I suggest we go, but it's creating good memories. And I think they secretly enjoy it. Fresh air, some exercise, natural beauty, and time together make it all worth it no matter how they feel.

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