My boots are sinking into the snow. The wind is curling around my face and I allow myself thirty seconds to close my eyes and breathe in the cold scents of winter. I let myself imagine that the 2 year old next to me is not about to eat that rock. We have walked this path before. Both the literal trail we stand on and the figurative path of mother and son, parent and child, watcher and daredevil.
There is something meditative about our repeated visits to this particular path. We’ve come to this route at least six times, since I’ve joined Hike it Baby. I know that number will soon be lost to counting.
This time the river is halfway to being iced over. On our previous journey, the creek had large thin sheets of ice slowly drifting down it; occasionally getting caught on the rocks. The time before that the river was swollen with late season rains, that should have been snows. The mallard ducks had not yet left and we stood watching for ten minutes as the small colony shimmered in the sun. They frolicked in water that was surely almost frozen.
The path itself has also changed. In November, light golden leaves whispered along our way. It was as if Lothlorien had come to see us. The little crunch and snap of brittle twigs announced our every move. In December the world around us had changed into a slick deep brown mud. Little squelches told me how far away my two year old was and stick eating became off limits. It was hard to see the lines of the trail as everything was almost monochromatic.
As January’s chills set in and snow finally graced our trail, it changed yet again into a glittering forest of white crystal with bare, black fingers of trees reaching up into the pale, grey sky.
Walking this path over and over has become like rereading my favorite book. It has allowed me to let my mind go. My feet already know the way, so I just let them walk. Our trail is slightly different every time. Yet it is always familiar. On each occasion my son stops at different places, a new sight or sound. We explore deeper each time we come. My son, comfortable enough to be in a place he knows branches out farther each time, yet will always request to go to the tunnel.
So we walk this trail again today. And each time we do, we make this trail our own. And we make it together.
Heidi Schertz hikes with her two boys. She is currently finding wilderness in the heart of the Milwaukee suburbs. When she’s not hiking, she knits, cooks and reads Lord of the Rings and Pride & Prejudice.