Hilary went out with some friends tonight, so it was just me and my boys: Caspian (almost 5 yrs) and Perrin (2 yrs). The first question of an evening like this is: pizza, pizza, or pizza?
It's the beginning of the weekend, and pizza would kick things off right, so I had to evaluate our options. Hilary had the car, so we couldn't simply run out and pick up a pizza. We didn't have any crusts to make one at home, and delivery is always a last option now that most pizza places charge a delivery fee. There was one good option remaining: Hunt Brothers pizza at the local gas station.
I love Hunt Brothers pizza; the crust is delicious, the toppings are unlimited, and the price is right. But the gas station is about a mile from our house...could a five and a two year old walk there and back? I did want to wear them out so they'd go to sleep quickly, so I ended up deciding to give it a shot. Pizza and a hike? Sounds like a winning combination!
We started out walking our subdivision's sidewalks until we reached Jessamine Station Road, a country road which heads into town (over a railroad) and creates the intersection for the first of Wilmore's two stoplights. Having never walked into town on this road, I wasn't sure if there was a sidewalk over the railroad, but I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to head off the road and cross the railroad on foot. Luckily, there turned out to be a sidewalk, since the areas around the railroad bridge were completely overgrown.
It's been too long since I've truly been out in nature. Yeah, I've gone on walks down to the "creek park" with my family, but out in the wild? It's been years. The wildflowers overgrowing the sides of the bridge were my first taste of wild nature in a long time, and they were beautiful, especially the thistles. Caspian and Perrin had never seen thistles before, so they were amazed at how tall and spiky they were, but I was simply reminded of the stark beauty of a plant with such a contradictory nature (and these were some of the tallest thistles I'd ever seen: some were over eight feet tall).
After our brief wildflower stop by the railroad bridge, we continued on into town to the Clucker's Marathon where our pizza awaited us. We ate, did the potty thing, and then started back home at 9:00 so we could hopefully make it before dark. I got the leftover pizza bagged for easy carrying, grabbed my boys' hands, and headed off toward the cemetary.
We passed the cemetary coming down the hill to Clucker's, so of course Caspian was begging to get to walk back through it on our way home. Why are cemetaries so fascinating to kids? Perhaps because death is such a foreign concept to them? Caspian & Perrin didn't really understand the reverence of a cemetary, but that's ok, they've got time to get it.
As we wandered amongst the gravestones, I thought about the route we would be taking to get back home. I really didn't want to walk home the same way we came; the sidewalk on the railroad bridge was a bit narrow, and there were other ways to walk home that didn't seem all that much longer than the country road route. There is a creek that runs through Wilmore, from the north side of town, southeast past Clucker's out the east side of town, ending up not too far from our house. I wondered if we could simply follow the creek home? There was a portion of its route with which I was unfamiliar, though. The creek winds past the cemetary, across a playground, and then through a tunnel under the railroad tracks. Once it gets on the other side of the tracks, I wasn't sure what happened to it for the next thousand feet until it gets to the "creek park" which is near our house.
I was feeling adventurous! I hadn't gone hiking or trailblazing or even just wandering around the woods in years (pretty sad for an Eagle Scout, huh?), so I asked Caspian if he would like to go on an adventure, and with his enthusiastic support, we set off. First we had to get from the cemetary to the playground where the creek was most accessible. I remembered from my childhood that there used to be a shortcut out the back of the cemetary, so I took the boys through to see if it was still there. It was somewhat overgrown but still passable, so with my five year old hanging on my back, and holding the leftover pizza and my two year old in my arms, we plunged through the undergrowth for fifty feet to come out on the gravel road behind the playground.
At the playground, we dropped down into the dry creekbed and followed it across to where it meets the twenty foot high railroad track embankment. Just before disappearing into a tunnel through the embankment, the dry creekbed merges with a flowing creek, so we couldn't walk in the creekbed any longer. We waited beside the stream as a train thundered past, then followed a short trail down to the creek to see what awaited us. It was approaching dusk, and the tall trees and steep embankment on three sides cast the tunnel entrance in shadow. At this point, the creek was nice and shallow, with plenty of rocks for crossing, so with Perrin in my arms and Caspian following close behind me, I carefully crossed the creek.
As I approached the tunnel entrance, I could see that it was a sizable tunnel (a small car could easily drive through), so I pulled out my LED keychain flashlight and peered into the tunnel to see if it was passable. Somebody must continue to cross through the tunnel occasionally, because there was a meandering path of large rocks going through the tunnel to allow easy pasage over the water. The water was only a few inches deep, so even if we fell in we would only get wet, but falling in a creek—regardless of its depth—could be scary for a young kid, so we played it safe and kept to the rocks. With only a few balancing errors, we managed to pick our way through the tunnel without soaking our feet, and on the other side emerged once again in the twilight.
Now we were faced with a choice. There were woods all around, so it wasn't immediately apparent which way we should go. I knew that if we were able to continue following the creek, it would lead us to the park, but I wasn't sure if we would be able to follow it owing to the dense woods surrounding it. On our left, however, there appeared to be a path worn into the overgrowth, so I gambled on that being the better option.
Growing up in the Boy Scouts, I went on regular outings to the Red River Gorge as a boy. Of all the different hikes we went on, though, the ones I enjoyed most were when we just hiked cross-country without a trail. Crashing through the forest, making our way over mountains and around fallen trees, we were a piece of the wilderness for a weekend. I believe God created us to be a part of the natural world he created, in all its wonder and wildness, and when I'm able to spend time out there in the wild, my sense of awe grows to unspeakable proportions.
All these memories and my sense of wonder came alive again as I led my boys along the little worn path through the wilderness in Wilmore. All around was dense woods and weeds as far as we could see, so we just continued along the path, avoiding the poison ivy as best we could. I knew we were heading in the right direction, so I figured we'd come out somewhere recognizable sooner or later.
Pretty soon we came upon a clearing. As we emerged from the tall weeds into the clearing, I began marveling at how such a long stretch of wilderness could exist in the heart of a small town like Wilmore. The clearing was long and narrow, just wide enough for a large truck to fit in, with tall woods stretching out on either side. It apparently went on for quite a while, but was very directional, so we followed the clearing in the direction it was headed.
As we walked, I noticed it was getting pretty dark, so I kept up the pace and looked about for signs of light. Although I saw some streetlights a ways off through the trees, the lights I noticed the most were the fireflies. The tall woods and dense undergrowth seemed to contain and reflect their light...and there were thousands of them! As far as we could see ahead of us down the clearing, hundreds and hundreds of fireflies flashed to each other in the fading daylight. I stood for a couple minutes and simply soaked it in. It was beautiful.
Eventually, we had to keep going since it was almost dark, and after a bit longer we came to a gate at the end of the clearing. Thankfully it was standing open, so we went through the opening, and came out of the woods smack in somebody's back yard! We walked around to the sidewalk in front of their house and I took a minute to get my bearings. We were exactly where I wanted to be, just a hundred feet from the "creek park," at the entrance to the road that led most directly up the street to our house. Incredible. I had been afraid that we had overshot our street and would have to backtrack a bit, but we were right on the money.
Ten minutes later we were home, showering and getting in bed while waiting for Hilary to arrive home from her outing. Perhaps we didn't hike twenty miles across the Cumberland Ridge (as I did many times in Boy Scouts), but it was every bit as enjoyable, and I got to share God's wilderness with my boys, right here in the heart of Wilmore.