The lights dimmed and the curtain raised, the stage once again reveals the now-familiar, bustling family of five.
In the driveway of their small suburban home, the father is buckling the well-padded baby into her snug carseat, making skilled attempts to wiggle her arms through the straps, as she works hard to get them out. The mother pulls at jackets and lifts under arms, ushering the bundled older children into the back of car with their loads of explorer-worthy trappings. Finally, children strapped in place, the parents take their seats and the family van pulls onto the road.
It’s a vacation day: pancakes have been eaten, lazy sipping of coffee has ensued, relaxation has crept into this usually-busy group. It’s a crisp, sunny day and the normally scheduled, organized family feels the need for a bit of spontaneity.
Time for a family hike.
They make the short drive out of the citified suburb to a nearby nature park, pulling up alongside the curb dusted with red-orange earth, a row of cars before them revealing that others have clearly had the same idea of a mid-winter excursion. But not to worry! The jovial, fleece-wrapped family will not be dismayed!
Baby secured to the father’s chest in the handy carrier, children loaded with their backpacks full of exploring necessities, the brood makes their way up to the first trailhead. Now is decision-making time: which way to go.
The family chooses a path not yet trod on previous outings, and makes their way toward a large, old mine shaft over a mile down the now-dismantled railway line. Remarkably, the family has the hike to themselves, providing plenty of opportunity for the parents to spin stories about the deserted mine lingering ahead.
Fresh after a week of pitiless, cold rain, the iron-ore enriched brown/purple earth is littered with mud and puddles. The woods are silent, except for the squashing of the little boy’s (hardly surprising) sloppy, mud-drenched shoes, and the chatter of the five.
The naked trees grow more ominous as the family passes an area of bare vines, forming draped caves over the undergrowth. The children begin to shy away and hustle down the muddy path, for fear of “confirmed” troll sightings. The fear of the Scooby-Doo villain “the Miner” mounts in the young son’s mind, with each sludgy step.
They come to a swampy pond, surrounded by a ring of leafless trees, vines dangling, with only the croaking frogs breaking the silence. Through the trees, the big mine shaft looms upon the hill.
The children want to turn back.
The parents continue to tell tales in a whisper, calling for hushed foot steps and sharp eyes as they cajole the children toward the mine. The son stalls at the base of the hill, deciding he doesn’t want to see the mine after all.
Luckily, the elder sister dismisses the yarns of her mischievous parents and pulls him onward. The baby babbles and kicks her feet, aloof to the nervous adventure.
The weather-worn, time-discolored mine stands ominously tall on the sunny hill, iron bars twisting this way and that into the sky. The frogs continue their eerie call, the only other sign of life.
The son gives way to the sister’s practical dismissals of any danger, and relaxes. The family inspects the hundred-year-old mine shaft and searches the ground for shimmering charcoal-colored iron ore, now breathing in the abandoned beauty of the old place in the woods. They rinse their treasures in a cold, clover-filled spring welling up at the edge of the mine, and happily pocket their finds.
With laughter and ease, the family hikes back down the path, racing and hiding and teasing their way to the car.
The busy-ness of life has been put aside, hands are held in warmth and gratitude, smiles are shared in abundance. Life is sweet. Life is so good.
With the world in its proper perspective on this day in the family’s life, the curtain is lowered, as life continues for a very happy, very thankful family of five.