This Week in the Woods: Late Summer Wanderings and Back-to-School Ponderings

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Our feet are noiseless on a trail of packed dust that winds along a tree-covered ridge. We are in Niagara wine country, and the chatter of our three little girls is punctuated by the sounds of bird bangers in the valley below—propane-fired cannons used to ward off hungry avians. Overhead, the constant whirr of sight-seeing helicopters reminds us that Niagara Falls is not far away. Unruffled by these outside intrusions, the children stop every now and then to exclaim: a tiny toad hopping over a tree root; a white-tipped black feather banded with blue; fungus growing thick on a log; a spider eating its prey. There is much to see today.

A waterfall splashes playfully across the path, and we pick our way across carefully. The canopy thins and the forest floor is dappled with light. Suddenly, it’s full-blown sunlight and our eyes blink to adjust. A Little Yellow, one of Ontario’s sulphur butterflies, flits above the tangle of purple bergamot that lines the path.

We’re officially back to school next week, although we unofficially started lessons last week. I prefer to have a “soft start”, a chance to ease back into our homeschool schedule. Teaching is hard work, but so is learning. We all fare much better when we start off slow.

I’m excited about this year. I didn’t think I would be. I gave it my all last year and finished the final term completely burned out, questioning whether I could push through another year. And yet, there didn’t seem to be a choice.

A few short months of respite have made all the difference in the world.

Our hiking trail begins at the Brock Monument. The tall structure, built in the mid-1800s, marks the grave of Sir Isaac Brock and commemorates the battle against the Americans fought on this ridge in October of 1812. We climbed exactly 235 extremely narrow, steep steps inside the monument, around and around until I felt dizzy. There was barely enough room for the five of us to squish onto the tiny stone platform at the top of the tower. The thick, stone wall boasts small, grated holes. We peered through at the landscape stretching all around.

“That’s where the Americans came,” my daughter exclaimed excitedly, pointing at the river. “And maybe that’s the gully that Sir Isaac Brock and his troops were hiding in!” Suddenly, history is alive and we’re right in the middle of it.

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I sometimes forget that all of these outside-the-box excursions count as school. Now too, as we wander down the Bruce Trail, we’re learning.

“Look Mom! An insect wing!” that same daughter holds out her hand. Tiny veins stretch across a soft opaque grey. “Is it real? Can we look at it under the microscope when we get home?”

“It’s real, and yes, we can definitely do that.”

As we walk, the beauty of nature tugs my mind away from my list of things to do: cut out the rest of the favour tags and prayer cards for a homeschool parent support meeting on Tuesday; go through the Wednesday night preschool lessons; pick up gummy worms for the science class I’m teaching next week; put together gift bags for our family’s back to school celebration. These things, though exciting, are forgotten in the sheer joy of the moment.

It’s hard to believe that these woods were once a battlefield.

A white blaze is painted on the tree ahead. Someone has scrawled words on it in black marker: “Be present. Be reverent.”

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I’m present, fully engaged in the moment. I’m reverent, fully in awe of the beauty of God, expressed through His creation.

As the days and months and years pass, and as empires rise and fall, through times of war and through times of peace, some things remain unchanged.

God is good. He loves us. He enables us to do the things to which He’s called us.

And He’s holding us in His hands.

 

 

 

 

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