Spring into Nature (at last!)

I was beginning to feel like Spring was never going to properly arrive.  It’s been a right wee tease this year with some days of warm sunshine and blue skies immediately followed by the return of chilly, damp air and grey skies and flat light.  At last, however, it seems as if Spring has finally and fully-fledged arrived.  Not a moment too soon either as I was beginning to feel like a hermit and really felt a need – not just a want but a need – to get out and wander around in nature for a good chunk of time.

The kids were vehemently opposed to a long car journey so we stayed local and went for a wander in one of our usual haunts.  It felt good to be among the trees and see the sunshine beating through the leaves, plants beginning to bud, and insects buzzing around.

We played Pooh sticks – increasingly competitively and with a little bit of cheating here and there – and the boys climbed trees and clambered across fallen logs.  We saw wildlife too.  I only managed to capture a turtle on camera but we also saw birds galore, lots of insects, and a running groundhog – which was one of the cutest things I have seen in a while.

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The boys were able to get manky and be freely feral and I was able to complete relax allowing them to do so.

Spring is freedom.

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Ridley Creek State Park

Happy New Year!

My first post of 2016 is about our final Pict family outing of 2015 when we went for an exploration of Ridley Creek State Park.  Located near Media, the park comprises over 2000 acres of land but we confined this first visit to one particular trail.  We had visited the adjacent Tyler Arboretum in April and I must admit that I was bracing myself for similar levels of moodiness from the four boys.  However, the opportunity to roam free, climb trees, battle with sticks, and generally be their feral little selves meant they were stunningly well behaved and agreeable throughout the trek.

We parked up by the Jefford Mansion, a beautiful stone built building from the early twentieth century which now serves as the park offices, and the kids immediately scurried off into what was a cross between an artificial grove and a portico of trees surrounding a formal fish pond.  They soon had it turned into an imaginative playground where heroes were doing battle with mythological monsters, twigs brandished, roaring, and racing around.

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From there, we ventured into the woods.  The ground was still sodden and boggy from the previous night’s deluge of rain but we all squelched along quite happily.  There were lots of good climbing trees which the boys were soon scaling and even better were lots of felled trunks that they could shimmy along.  It soon became a competition to see who could complete an obstacle course of tree trunk running in the quickest time.  The smallest Pict is nimble, fleet of foot, and quite frankly impulsive and reckless so he easily won each and every time.

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It was because of the 6 year old’s intrepid ways that we stumbled across the highlight of the trip.  We were veering off the demarcated path anyway in order to run along logs but the wee one plunged off into the woods even further and, in doing so, chanced upon the skeletal remains of an adult white tail deer. Well, you would think my boys had just discovered pirate treasure!  They have inherited my macabre fascination for decay and mortality so the fault / credit is almost entirely my own but it seems my children are rarely happier on an outdoor adventure than when they stumble across a corpse.  The body parts were spread across the clearing so they had fun trying to find all the different parts, like a slightly gross jigsaw puzzle.  The skull was the easiest fine after the spine and rib cage but the two middle boys literally jumped up and down with glee when they found the two parts of the mandible.  Each hoof was located and identified at which point my youngest son declared that the deer must be a lady because it had high heels.

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Animal autopsy over, we kept on with the looping track.  We found interesting fungi, including a lump of gelatinous brown slime, like a tree hugging sea anemone, but we did not spot any more wildlife, either live or dead.  Wandering through the woods with four loud children never presents the best opportunity for spotting critters but perhaps there was not much to encounter at this time of year anyway.  I will just tell myself that.  It is a lovely park so we will have to return in the Spring when the flora and fauna are bursting with new life once more and perhaps we can explore another trail.

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Father’s Day Weekend

The Pict family had a very busy Father’s Day weekend, so much so that we decided that Mr Pict should open his gifts and cards a day early because it was the only way to schedule it in.  In addition to various cards and treats made at school, the boys made up a hamper of fun foods for their Daddy and also gifted him a steel coffee flask plastered in their mugshots.

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Saturday afternoon was spent at a Scouting Regatta hosted at a nearby Swimming Club.  While Mr Pict and I have some reservations about our family being involved in the American version of the Boy Scouts movement, as of now we are very glad that at least one of our children (the seven year old) has committed to joining an extra-curricular activity of any kind.  The people in the local troop are nice and our son certainly gets a lot out of participating, both socially and in terms of experiences.  It is one of those examples of treacherous waters we have to wade through as parents, setting aside our own beliefs and politics in order for our child to benefit.  But I digress … The event was about bringing the families together at the end of the Scouting season, awarding the boys with the badges they had earned and having some friendly competition with racing boats in some guttering.  Meanwhile, the seven year old’s brothers got to benefit from his extra-curricular commitment since they were free to come along and devour barbecued munchies and play in the pool.

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Yesterday, Father’s Day proper, we got up bright and early (perhaps too early for our very tired children who were none too bright about it) to drive up to the Poconos for a day of hiking in the sunshine.  Mr Pict and I had been to the Poconos back in April for a child-free break so had scouted out the places we thought would appeal to our kids most.  We had considered going for an overnight camping trip as a way to extend our adventures.  Sadly (not really – I was nothing but relieved) the busy nature of our weekends meant we could only undertake a day trip.  We, therefore, decided to contain our exploration to Hickory Run State Park.

We started with the Boulder Field as we knew that was a unique landscape and that our mountain goat children would enjoy scurrying and leaping all over the rocks.  Their smaller feet, of course, are better suited to finding foot holds on all shapes and sizes of rocks plus they are pretty much fearless (our five year old is emerging as an adrenalin junkie) so the kids were soon on the horizon line of the boulder field while I was still slowly, very slowly, working my way from rock to rock.  As well as enjoying bounding all over large boulders, the kids also enjoyed finding various spiders basking in the sunshine.  Two of my kids have arachnophobia but they are still fascinated by spiders so long as they are not taken by surprise or have to make physical contact with them. My 8 year old also saw the tail of a lizard whip off between some rocks – so the tail was presumably still attached to an unseen lizard.

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We then took the kids on the Shades of Death trail, which was much more verdant and even more picturesque than when we had visited in April now that Spring has passed into Summer.  The boys loved scampering over all of the tree roots and leaping over streams and bounding over rocks.  The whole walk reminded them of ‘Lord of the Rings’.  What they especially loved about the walk, however, was all of the water since the trail follows the course of a fast-flowing stream and skirts past a weir with a roaring waterfall and then concludes with a large pond.  We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on our trek.  Some birds, insects and some high-speed chipmunks were all we saw on the trail and we saw deer when we were driving.  My youngest sons were disappointed as they were totally up for a bear encounter.  As I have shared before, however, that is not an American experience I am keen on having so I am glad the bears gave us a wide berth.  What the boys did enjoy finding, however, were tadpoles teeming along the water’s edge, including some godzilla-esque tadpoles that must have been bullfrog babies.  The American word for a tadpole is polliwog.  I like it.

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We left Hickory Run State Park and detoured via the General Store called Country Junction that claims to be the world’s largest general store.  Mr Pict and I thought it would be a brilliant experience for the boys and sure enough they were spellbound as soon as they walked through the door, saw the yellow brick road, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ playing on a loop and the buckets of brightly coloured, bizarrely flavoured popcorn.  They loved the place!  Getting them to leave without a puppy or a pet ray might have proved a challenge but unfortunately no sooner had we arrived then a voice on the tannoy announced that the shop was closing so we had to abandon the yellow brick road, pay for our watermelon (!) popcorn and shoofly pie and return to the car – via the adjacent petting zoo that is also part of the general store.  My kids are already demanding to go back to Country Junction to see the rest of the store and have an adequate amount of time to poke around its incredibly eclectic wares so I think another jaunt to the Poconos will be in order this Summer.

Slasher Movies at French Creek State Park

Saturday was a wonderful weather day here.  After weeks of snow, chill winds, gloomy skies and general dreariness, Saturday was a proper Spring day full of blue skies, sunshine and warmth.  It was, therefore, the perfect day for a family outing.  We used to spend a lot of our time in Scotland wandering in woodland or circuiting lochs or travelling through glens and now we are eager to explore the great outdoors in Pennsylvania.

We decided to go to French Creek State Park, which is near Elverson.  We stopped for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel – because my boys have still not tired of American breakfast experiences – and while there my kids bought one of those toy knives where the blade disappears into the hilt on contact.  This gave them the idea to film a slasher movie on Mr Pict’s iphone.  They spent the rest of the car journey storyboarding it and discussing special effects and casting character parts.

I should state, categorically and for the record, that my kids have never seen a slasher movie.  They have, however, picked up some elements of the genre from parodies in cartoons that they watch and from looking at the images on DVD boxes.  The fact they were able to piece together a narrative based on that paucity of information and experience testifies to how cliched such movies are.  Still fun though.

Hopewell Lake, near the centre of the Park and where we parked the car, was still partially frozen so the boys had fun poking sticks at the ice and watching bubbles move beneath the surface.

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We decided to trek the Boone Trail, a six mile meandering walk through the woodland.  It was slow going as the kids kept stopping to film scenes for their movie – much to the bemusement of passers by on the trail – but it was a glorious day for a wander so we did not mind.  They did three takes maximum per scene which is not bad going for guerilla film-making.

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One area they loved playing in was a leaf strewn gulch over which a large tree trunk had fallen.  They, therefore, scrambled back and forth across the log, at first on hands and knees and eventually scampering across on two feet.  It was a bright but shady spot for a stop and a glug from our water bottles too.

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Just a few paces further along the trail we came across some cabins.  Cabins in the woods.  This was a little film maker’s dream location!  The boys had a whale of a time filming creepy thriller scenes in one cabin while I wandered around trying to look for local fauna.  At one point we did see a chipmunk and we saw a fair few birds but the sounds of kids making a thriller don’t exactly induce critters to malinger in the area.

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Once they had exhausted that location’s possibilities, we trekked onwards through the woods.  It soon became apparent that we were moving at far too slow a pace – what with all the filming fun and games – to complete the entire circuit of the Boone Trail so we decided to walk as far as the Fire Tower and then head back down towards “base camp” once more.

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We were wandering in the woods for over five hours and barely covered any ground in the Park.  It was a great place for a family trek as there was plenty to see and do along the trail to break up the monotony of walking in woods for the kids.  We will definitely return to French Creek State Park time and time again to explore the Boone Trail further and have a wander along other pathways too, especially as the seasons change and the trees fill in.

My kids continued their movie making when they got home and now have lofty ambitions of editing the whole movie together complete with post-production digital effects, a soundtrack, sound effects and a 1970s style set of opening credits.  They have appointed me chief editor.  Good grief.  I better start looking up tutorials on YouTube.