Saturday was the kind of day we had been waiting for–clear blue skies, sunshine glinting off the last remnants of snow and temperatures above freezing. Thanks to a “Kids Unplugged” family walk at Teatown Lake Reservation (teatown.org), we managed to get out of the house by 10 a.m. You can take the Taconic north to Teatown Lake, but I prefer driving through Tarrytown, past the historic Philipsburg Manor and Old Dutch Church and graveyard, turning right on Cedar Lane just past the Village of Ossining. Cedar runs along a ridge overlooking the Hudson River where views of water and islands alternate in pleasing bursts with houses. Then Cedar swings to the right, becoming Spring Valley Road, a heavily wooded, narrow, winding almost-country road. Teatown’s parking lot and main building are on the left, unannouced, unexpected to newcomers.
Gina, who founded Kids Unplugged (Kidsunplugged.org) a year ago, was signing people in when we arrived. After a quick trip to the bathroom, and a review of Kids Unplugged’s one rule for its hikes (children must always be able to see their parents and parents must always be able to see their kids), we set off along the Lakeside Trail.
Grace was instantly happy. While she is usually up for adventures of all kinds, she seemed especially delighted to be out in the woods again. Perhaps this is the right time to confess that I tend to be a fair weather hiker, and this winter, when the weekends have seemed particularly damp and dreary, has kept us indoors more than we would have liked. It wasn’t long before Grace was scrambling up hills, climbing over rocks and straddling fallen trees. The trail along the lake is fairly flat, though tree roots and small stones scar the packed dirt. In the spring, ducks swim placidly near the shore. The woods are quiet but for the happy voices of young children. There are dogs on the trail too, a black and white great dane, muzzled and leashed, a smaller mutt walking its owner. Grace climbs further and further up a hill while the others stop for a break at the boathouse. She has found two branches propped against each other, the beginningsof a lean-to. She sets to work, adding to the rustic house. I join her and together we create a teepee of sorts before it is time to continue walking.
Our last stop before turning back is a small waterfall, where the lake spills into a narrow creek. All of the children except the very youngest, are delighted. One after another, they begin climbing gingerly over the rocks to the other side of the creek. There are several places where footing could slip, where a child could get wet or hurt. I look up from chatting with another parent and move protectively closer to the edge of the creek where Grace stands. Is she waiting to take her turn? Or considering whether this is safe or not? I bite my tongue, choking back the “be careful!” She crosses. She makes it safely and happily to the other side. No one falls in. No one gets hurt.
We turn back toward the trailhead. Grace is holding my hand, chattering, stopping to examine the “awesome holes in a downed tree. She picks up a piece of bark and spends several minutes considering which stuffed animal would enjoy skiis made out of the bark, wanting to show it to her best human friend. And I wonder out loud, “why don’t we do this more often?”