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Less Screen Time, More Green Time

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The sun draws close to the distant ridge. Pine boughs whisper from above and fire warms our faces. Oak smoke rises into the breeze and disappears into the year’s first buds.

My daughter and I have been sitting silently on fireside stumps for minutes on end. There are no words worth speaking just now, in the presence of mesmerizing flames and overheard conversations between robins. This is peace much needed and well earned.

The journey here was not physically strenuous; perhaps more symbolic. Ninety miles in the car, up a hill, a couple miles through the woods. Schedules and emails traded for sunshine and quiet. No school, no internet, no other people. Just us and the waking woods. 

Stress and cares have all but floated off and dissipated like smoke. 

As it happens, a week ago my son and I swung from the trees on a ridge across the river valley. That was an entirely different trip but refreshing nonetheless. 

It was a dark day. The outing began on the heels of a several-day rainstorm. Light showers kept our shirts damp on the two-and-a-half mile trek. Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and bluebells glowed from the trailsides while the drumming of grouse pulsed through the dripping woods. 

A campsite chosen in a stand of white pines offered views on both sides and a carpet of needles to keep gear from getting muddy. With hammocks hung and tarps placed, the agenda was short: supper and a campfire. Ramen bowls and tuna tortillas were the easy part. Making a fire in a soggy environment proved less easy but perfect for staying warm while the woods turned colder. 

My boy slept like a rock that night. I did not. Owls, deer, and geese took turns coloring the dark with their respective outbursts. Then there were the coyotes— they were in a league of their own. I’m not complaining, mind you, only astonished at how a 12-year-old boy can sleep through all that. 

The morning crept in slowly and gently. Instant oatmeal warmed us when we emerged from billowy chambers. We lingered a bit, soaking in the sounds and smells, talking about nothing in particular.

Cranes and cardinals provided a new soundscape as we returned to the car by another meandering route. The terrain fascinated and challenged us. There were many questions and I did my best to provide answers. Mostly we just walked and looked and discovered. 

It was simple, and yet perfect. 

Since the hammock camping experiment in March, I’d been looking for another opportunity to exploit my son’s shiny new enthusiasm for it. It’s hard to find anything that motivates him lately. Whether due to his age or pandemic weariness, it has become increasingly difficult to pry him from his rhythm of bouncing between technology and listlessness. These years are both fleeting and vitally important in shaping who he will become. Problem is, sometimes as parents we flail ineffectually in attempts to make the most of every day. 

When I proposed we go backpacking with hammocks, my son accepted enthusiastically. Even without a destination or plan outlined, he was all in. It’s heartening to know my kids have that instinct. As for my daughter, she wasn’t going to let me off the hook— she was to get her own hammocking trip, ASAP.  

To tell the truth, she played right into my hands. She needs this as much as anything right now and the proof is unfolding. She is already relaxed, carefree, and more like her natural self. It always works. And it doesn’t matter if we’re camping, fishing, foraging, or whatever. As with her brother, transformation is assured so long as the recipe is followed: 

Minnesota state forest dispersed camping

Choose one or two kids. Remove from the heat and pressure of modern life and allow to cool. Add generous amounts of fresh air, exercise, and natural stimuli. Ferment until desired consistency is reached. 

And so, we revel in silence so hard to come by these days. Soon it will be dark and the fire will die out. In the morning we will eat and talk and do whatever we like.

At precisely the right time, we will shoulder our packs and follow a new path. I will have made the most of this weekend and this sweet child of mine will be ready to face another week. 

Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs

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Nobody smiles at 4:40 am. Nobody at my house, anyway. But Friday morning, I woke my kids up that early, knowing they would be smiling a lot that day- eventually. They had the day off from school, and we had a big day planned at Mille Lacs Lake. 

Our little Ford Escape slinked down the resort ramp between rumbling trucks and wheelhouses, onto the white expanse. It was a few minutes before sunrise, though we wouldn’t see the sun that day due to thick cloud cover. Winds were moderate and temperatures were expected to rise about ten degrees to near 30 by day’s end. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day, but it could have been worse.  Continue reading “Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs”

Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree

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Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking about our Christmas tree in October. In fact, we’ve had a hand-me-down artificial tree for about the last 15 years, so it wouldn’t occur to me at all. But some relatives were telling us they’d be at the cabin this year for Christmas, and I suggested they get a permit to take their tree from the woods for the occasion. So in the interest of encouraging others into the outdoors, I snooped around for information from Minnesota DNR and the Forest Service, and emailed them some web links. 

What I found actually surprised me. As far as I could tell, the permit for harvesting a tree from Minnesota’s state forest lands would cost $25. That was a higher price than I expected. However, the permit for a tree from Chippewa National Forest costs only $5. 

Yes, FIVE DOLLARS.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree”

Bring a Kid: Backpacking

Read More Kids Hike Through Tettegouche

After a hot and sweaty couple of miles on the trail, it didn’t matter how cold the water might be or that there wasn’t really a beach. Once we’d found our campsite, taken off our packs, and changed, my kids and I took to the lake for our hard-earned reward. We spent about an hour playing in the water before going ashore for a break. I was made to promise we weren’t done swimming. After sitting in the shade and eating raspberries a while, my son said wistfully, “I wish we could stay here a week, just to swim and eat berries.” He was in paradise. We all were.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Backpacking”

Bring a Kid: Berry Picking in MN

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  • Bumper crop of hazelnuts
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Are you looking for a way to get kids into the outdoors? Do you want to do something simple, accessible, universally appealing, and fun? Take them berry picking. 

I took my kids yesterday to some public land in east central Minnesota with the hope of finding some mushrooms and, if lucky, some raspberries or blueberries. Well, blueberries ended up being the main attraction, with some bonus raspberries and mushrooms as well. This is why we call it “foraging,” and not simply “harvesting.” You just never know what you’re going to find.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Berry Picking in MN”