World-Weary, I Walk in the Winter Woods With My Wide-Eyed, Wonderstruck Wee Ones

This week Pennsylvania was graced with its 2nd notable snow of the season, after getting a grand total of 1 last winter. That’s a total of 3 snowstorms in the last 1.5 winters. I grew up in the Keystone State and can attest that this is not normal. In the ’80s and ’90s, we experienced several medium-to-big powder dumps every month. Snow days (remember those?) were a plentiful commodity. I’ll never forget jumping off the roof of my childhood home, under close parental supervision, into a snowdrift several feet deep. Long live the ’80s and ’90s, those glory days of winter!

Our last few snowy/cold seasons, though, have not been very snowy and not very cold, with high temperatures sometimes lingering in the 40s for weeks. This is a fact for which I’ve been quite grateful during this particular season of quarantine — so many unimpeded hikes, runs, woods walks, and playground visits! So much fresh air to alleviate our cabin fever! But I want my kids to experience some of the epic snow I remember from childhood, and this week offered them that in spades (and shovels).

While it doesn’t compare with the blizzards of either my first 18 years in Pennsylvania or the 9 years I spent in powder-heavy Colorado, the 8-10 inch snowfall we received was a wonder to behold and a delight to explore with the kids.

(It was also a mortal enemy that I resented with every fiber of my being on Monday, when my body ached with the back-breaking rigors of shoveling drifts of snow that had turned to icy-crusted wet cement in the whipping wind on our long driveway. But I don’t want to be a curmudgeon, so I’ll focus on the fun stuff.)

I admire how instinctively our kids can make their own fun. When I take them out in the woods, they’re content to bring one little plastic farm animal each, plus maybe some bubbles or a ball. We can then spend 45 minutes playing and exploring without anyone getting the least bit restless.

It’s a beautiful thing to witness the untethered joy of a human being who has not yet learned that boredom exists.

When I took the kids out to the driveway early this week, they brought their little animal (a sheep for Greyson, a horse for Violet) and quickly hatched the idea of helping me shovel. They used their animals to scrape snow off our cars, our trash can, anything they could reach that had a layer of snow. Then when we walked over to our walking path in the woods, they continued to shovel whatever they could: benches, a gazebo, tree trunks, rocks on the ground. Pretty solid work ethic, if you ask me.

The next day we paid a visit to a local tepee that someone (who deserves a firm handshake) had built in the woods a while back, which has now been upgraded to include a soft carpet of snow. After shoveling some powder off the walls and rafters, Greyson imagined a whole farmyard worth of animals inside our open-air, conical-shaped barn. He assigned each one to a different nook or cranny of the tepee. Violet was delighted by this game. I have never met anyone as thrilled by farm creatures as either of these two noted animal enthusiasts.

Two other times this week, we played with our next-door neighbors in their yard. [Fun side note: On a daily basis, Violet loves to randomly give props to the 4 members of this neighbor family in sing-song fashion: “Jan great, Erin great, Vada great, Arlo great!” It’s pretty great, you guys.] Greyson and Violet had a blast, as always, especially since they rarely get to play with anyone during quarantine. Ultra-spunky 7-year-old Vada, who simply adores our ultra-spunky 2-year-old Violet, generously offered to pull her around the yard on a black-and-yellow penguin sled. The results were unsurprisingly cute.

Meanwhile, Greyson contented himself for a while making “snow oceans” with plastic sandbox toys shaped like dolphins and starfish. Creating animal menageries has been one of his favorite pastimes for the better part of 2 years, ever since he lost interest in his previous obsession: creating vehicle menageries. It melts my heart to see that an activity this simple bring pleasure to our sweet, innocent boy.

Then there’s the tried-and-true outdoor activity I like to call Throwing Little Things Into The Creek. It’s pretty self-explanatory, really. Greyson and Violet can entertain themselves for the better part of an hour just finding little sticks and leaves and rocks and — you guessed it — gleefully tossing them into the barely-trickling creek near our house. The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree (nor does the twig) because my brothers and I did this endlessly as kids. I don’t have a picture of them doing this in the snow, but here’s a pre-snowstorm shot of them preparing to experiment with the relative buoyancy of wood.

I’m grateful that I got to experience a sizable (at least for 2021) snowstorm with our kids, who are now both old enough to tromp through the soft white stuff in their cute rubber boots — green for Greyson, pink for Violet. Seeing the delight in their wide eyes way more than compensates for the ache in my back and the inconvenience of not being able to drive anywhere for a day or two.

And hey, it’s a pandemic. Why would we need to drive anywhere anyway? Going places is overrated. Just give me the woods across from our house and I’ll be content.

As will these two.

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