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TGIF. That’s what I have to say about that. What a week at work it has been. It was a short week due to the Labor Day holiday, but it didn’t seem short. It was busy as usual with the day-to-day rumblings of pre-approvals flooding in, calling dealers, verifications, income calculations, document reviewing, meetings discussing possible changes coming down the pipeline, etc. You know…the usual. Winding down and closing out the end of the week went decently smooth, but I have to tell you, after working the last 3 Saturdays, it feels good to know I don’t have to go in this one.
Anyways, the work week came to a well-deserved end, and I was driving home jamming to some country music in the truck. I knew that we had a busy weekend ahead, but I was prepared to take it head on, in stride, with a feather in my cap, and a little pep in my step. However, no plans were in place for this Friday evening. My wife had sent me a text declaring her intentions of going shopping as soon as I got home, which would leave me with some daddy daughter time with my girls. This would give me the absolute perfect opportunity to utilize what I had been reading in my downtime today, an article called “How to Get Your Kids to Love Nature (Even if You Live in the Burbs)” from one of my new favorite blogs, The Art of Manliness. So, I had begun to think about and search for a new local trail to explore and day hike with them.
I wasn’t looking for anything too big or extravagant, just something we could adventure on for an hour, two at most. I had come across some great reviews online of Stage Nature Center in Troy, Michigan, off of Coolidge Hwy, just south of South Blvd. Even though the Center closed earlier in the day, the trails were open until dusk. Perfect, and it’s not even that far of a drive from the house. My plan now was to get home, grab a quick bite to eat, change clothes, throw on my hiking shoes, get my soon-to-be one year old and my 6 (going on 16) year old ready, and hittin’ th’ road.
In my life, things never really go as planned. Low and behold, my 6 year old, Abby, decided she didn’t want to go on a hike, and wanted to play with her friends across the street. My wife, Jackie was eager to get out the door for the little shopping excursion she had been pining over throughout the day. That left just Allie and myself to fend for ourselves. I looked deep into my 10 month old’s sparkling eyes with a teeny pout on my face, as her sister wasn’t interesting in spending outdoor time with daddy this evening. Then, something wonderful happened. Allie drew the biggest, cutest smile on her face and said, “Da da” (in a deep, deep, back of the throat voice, kind of like a pirate). I completely lost it, and my frown flipped right upside down. I’m a huge fan of pirates, if you didn’t know this about me.
This was going to be fun. I looked at Allie and told her, “Well, little peanut. I guess it’s just going to be me and you, kiddo.” So, I swiftly scarfed down a bratwurst and some macaroni with shredded parmesan, and some hot sauce, changed into some comfy, warm hiking duds, changed Allie into a reasonable outdoor outfit, loaded the stroller in the car, made sure my other daughter would be alright at the neighbor’s house, and away we went. The entire drive there, I couldn’t stop telling her about what we were about to do, some of the sights she may see, animals she may encounter, and sounds she may hear. I mean, this would be her very first hike, sort of, as she can’t yet walk on her own. She’s almost there, though. She’ll be walking any day now. She can pull herself up and stand while holding onto something. I’m just waiting for the moment that she lets go of the couch with both hands, stands there in complete amazement at her own little accomplishment, and takes a step on her own. I can sense it right around the corner.
In the meantime, I am still calling this her first hike, even though I was going to be pushing her in her stroller. It was going to be in the woods, in nature, and we were going to be conquering this adventure together, just the two of us. I couldn’t wait to get there and see the look in her beautiful little eyes when she discovers the outdoors and all it entails.
We pulled in to the parking lot of the Nature Center, and I only noticed 2 other vehicles there. Perfect. Not busy at all. Just my cup of tea. I parked the car, quickly gathered my phone for photos, hopped out, grabbed the stroller from the back hatch, and opened the back door to get Allie out. She looked up at me, batted her blueish brown eyes, and drew a gigantic smile causing her tootser to drop to her lap. Her hands lifted in the air toward me and she laughingly said “Da da.” I about started to cry. After securing her in her chariot, I locked the car and away we embarked on our big adventure.
From the Nature Center building, a paved path led into the woods. I could begin to hear the faint sound of the Rouge River running in the distance. The sounds of the birds were music to my ears, and I could tell that Allie was enjoying the sounds of nature as well. She seemed to sink into her seat and get comfortable, and we both began to release the tensions brought on with our day to day lives of the real world. I was delighted to be providing her with the Vitamin N she needed (read the Art of Manliness article stated above if you’re wondering what Vitamin N is).
Deeper down the path, the pavement ended after we were a good distance in the brush, away from the buildings. Awesome. I prefer less concrete on my hikes whenever I can. Allie liked it too, as the stroller jiggled a bit on the dirt, over the leaves and stones and sticks. She began to make a noise herself, just so she could hear her own voice shake over all the little bumps. I remember doing that when I was a kid, like when I sat on my dad’s knee as he quickly bounced me up and down, or when getting pulled in the wagon over a dirt road or path. It brought back memories of when I was young.
The views were astonishing, gorgeous, serene even. The sounds were soothing. The smells were fresh. We both noticed squirrels running around, playing. We continued along the path and came to the first fork with signs displaying the trail names. I was going to take the long way around and through, to give Allie a great experience her first time around on this hike. As we continued, we came across some wooden foot bridges, allowing us easy passage over some small streams and wetland areas. The flora was beautiful this time of day, lit perfectly with the sun beginning to orange and drop down further into the trees.
We carried on. We then came across a small area with a few benches placed. A chance to sit and rest for a moment, take some great shots of Allie, and get her out of her stroller to allow her to stretch her legs and arms and crawl all over me. She’s not one to just sit nicely and quietly anymore. When she’s not strapped down, she doesn’t stay still for one single moment. I don’t blame her. We talked (or babbled in her case) and just enjoyed each other’s company for a moment, before I got her loaded up and strapped in again to continue our journey.
Not far from here, another foot bridge appeared. Only this one was much bigger than the last. We came to a fork, and a sign displayed the words “Marsh Tower.” “Ooooh. I wonder what this is. Should we find out?” I questioned aloud to Allie. She turned her head around to see me, and I could almost see the wheels spinning in her mind. She knew what I was saying, and I’m sure by now she knew that I was always up for mystery and adventure, and she seemed to agree. “Let’s find out” I exclaimed.
Around the corner were stairs leading up to a platform overlooking a clearing. I parked the stroller, unlatched her harness, picked her up, and we headed up the steps. Once we reached the platform and looking over the rail, you could see the marsh. It was beautiful. A full 270 degree view. You could barely hear it, but the sounds of the water of multiple overlapping tiny streams were clear and peaceful. I definitely had to snap some photos of this along with a couple of selfies of the two of us. I then heard a rustle in the tall grass, and just barely caught a glimpse of something light brown headed into the woods on the far end of the marsh. What could it be? I wonder? I looked at Allie, puzzled, and asked her if she saw what it was. She had nothing to say. She seemed to almost shrug her shoulders. I guess we would just hope to see what it was further down the trail.
Not very much further, I stopped to tie my shoe as I had accidentally stepped on one of the laces and pulled it loose. Upon completing the knot, I felt a presence, like someone or something was staring at me. Without coming out of my stooped position, I lifted my chin and looked up. A beautiful female white-tailed deer was about 40 feet away, just standing there, looking straight at us. She was absolutely beautiful. I looked over at Allie in the stroller, and she also saw the doe. It looked like her jaw had dropped at the sight. She was still and silent, just staring at the beautiful creature. The amount of joy that spread throughout me was insurmountable. I could tell that this hike was an amazing idea, and I was euphoric to be sharing my passion for nature and the outdoors with my youngest.
We slowly and quietly continued on the path, and the deer just kept looking, not getting spooked and running off. Then, I noticed a second doe a little further in the distance, enjoying a grassy snack, not paying any notice to these humans it did not know. What a site. I’m wondering, if we see them on our next trip here, if I bring some dried corn and seeds, that they would come right up to eat right out of my hand. We didn’t seem to be spooking them any. Awesome.
We carried on along the trail, and came to a bridge crossing over the Rouge River in this area of the preserve. Allie was leaning forward, still strapped in, but wanting to see the water. I caught a splendid photo of her holding on to the rail of the bridge looking over the river. The sound of the water falling over the rocks under the bridge was enough to catch her attention and spark her interest. The sun was going further down, and we had to recommence.
It seemed that we were almost returning back to where the trail began, but I noticed another fork that took us past the paved beginnings of the trail and continued in the other direction. I was excited that it wasn’t over yet, and we still had more to explore.
The tall pines were towering over our heads in this part of the preserve. All of a sudden, a deep, loud hoot echoed in the tree tops above us. I immediately stopped in my tracks. I noticed Allie freeze herself, and turn her attention up to the tree tops. I looked up and around, and didn’t see anything. There it was again. We continued to scan the canopy, and I faintly made out a large Michigan Owl way up high. He was exquisite, from what I could see. We tried to get closer, but he took off deeper into the woods where the trail did not lead. I wished I could have followed him, but it was getting darker, and I needed to get Allie back home so I could feed her and get her to bed.
Completing the trail wasn’t far ahead of us, but we had come a long way, it seemed. It was only about a two mile total hike, but it lasted an eternity for me. I was in my glory being able to share this first hiking, exploring, adventurous opportunity with my youngest, just her and I. This was the first of many adventures I will enjoy with her. I will make a commitment now to explain and show her how important Mother Nature is, and make outdoor activities a staple in our lives.
What an amazing evening!