Hiking with Grandchildren: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
by Ernie Allison
My father always had a firm belief that nothing provides better family bonding time than communing with the great outdoors. I tend to agree. I remember my own Grandfather picking me and my brother up for our yearly camping trip. The fondest memories I have of that grizzled man were spent hiking mountain trails.
Decades have passed and I have grandchildren of my own. As time has passed, so too has the tradition of yearly camping trips between grandfather and grandchild. My grandchildren are thoroughly 21st century youth—that is they prefer to play their video games and wander malls searching for shiny objects. I don’t really understand the appeal, but I have been told the entire experience is “cool.” The first time I brought up camping and hiking, my grandson John asked me if he could bring his portable DVD player and my granddaughter Brooke informed me that she received all the nature she desired from the bird feeder her mother had set up in the backyard. A bird feeder and an inability to be separated from a DVD player. Was that really what we as a species have turned to? Mere months later my wife and I were asked to babysit while my son and daughter-in-law were out of town on a business trip. I was determined to bring a little nature into my grandchildren’s lives. I figured I would start small. No need to shock them, so I packed my three grandchildren into my van and set off for Jump Creek, Idaho. Jump Creek is a nature hike that even casual hikers can manage. The entire path only takes about twenty minutes to walk both ways. Therefore, I determined it was perfect for my grandchildren.
Ok, I admit I might have told the children that we were going to the mall. It kept them cheery and chattering for about half of the 2 hour trip to the canyon. It wasn’t until our car hit the dessert that the real complaining started. “You should have told them in the first place,” my wife sighed, patting her brown hair. “Then we would have had 2 hours of this,” I muttered. The complaining died down momentarily when the 400 foot high canyon walls came into view. “You’ll like this. It’ll be fun. I promise,” my wife exclaimed from the seat beside me. The only answer was two huffs and one snore from the back seat. At the parking lot the whole family piled out of the car, and then after some more enthusiastic complaining, the hike began. The grandchildren were not impressed by the bunchgrass and sage. They were not impressed by the towering walls that enclosed both sides of the path. They did perk up when a hawk flew by. And there was some enthusiastic shrieking from Brooke when a snake slithered onto the path. Things didn’t really take a turn for the worst until my four-year-old grandchild Little Sally scurried back to my wife with “Pwetty Flowers.” The little girl had been the only one to show any measure of enthusiasm for the trip. She had been running from one foreign object to another, inspecting every insect, plant, and rock with the intensity that most would give to a math problem. My wife was peering up at the sky in the hopes that another bird would fly past. My wife accepted the flower without looking. Sally beamed with pride. “Ah…dear” I said, “That’s poison Ivy.” When we reached the small creek, I was still explaining the importance of not touching poison ivy, oak, or sumac. “You’ll know it’s poison ivy by its white berries at this time…” “How do we get across?” my granddaughter Brooke interrupted. “We walk on the rocks,” I said. I demonstrated after picking up Sally by tentatively stepping out onto the first stone on the path. I was halfway across when I heard a high pitch squeak followed by a splash. I jerked around to find Brooke sitting in the water. “John don’t push your sister.” The water wasn’t deep, but it was enough to leave Brooke’s shorts soaked. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Brooke grabbed onto her brother’s foot when he gleefully continued on causing him to sprawl into the water. “You jerk,” he said. What followed was a few moments of bickering and fighting from two cranky and wet preteens.
By the time we finally arrived at the 60 foot Jump Creek waterfall, I was regretting this decision to bond in the outdoors. My two elder grandchildren were hissing insults under their breath and my wife was scratching at her hands where a poison ivy rash was just beginning to develop. Only Little Sally was joyfully exploring her surroundings. The 60 foot waterfall stole everyone’s attention. It was a mesmerizing sight. The bickering died down, my wife stopped scratching, and Little Sally remained still for the first time that day. Then the refrain of “cool” from my mall rat grandchildren started. I knew then that I had made the right choice. This trip allowed me to create a memory that my grandchildren would remember forever. The fact that Little Sally shattered the moment by squealing and throwing herself into the water in an attempt to catch a rainbow pretty much sealed the moment in their memory forever. It was funny until we remembered Sally couldn’t swim. By the time I fished Sally from the water and returned to the car, my grandchildren were asking when we could take our next hike, so I think the trip was a success overall.
Ernie Allison is a freelance writer who loves spending time with his grandchildren, whenever he is able to pull them away from the screens. He is an enthusiastic birder, and if he isn’t hiking or chasing after one of his grandchildren you’ll probably find him in his backyard or in the park feeding birds.