The fourth stick from the right, (the thinner of the two) broke the other day. My son was genuinely devastated. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Sarah Simpson Column: Sticks and stones will burst our pockets…

Over the weekend my family of four joined my mom and step-dad for one last hike before they left the Island and their summer holidays behind for another year.

It’s always such a cool thing to show my family the abundance of natural wonders in the Cowichan Valley. I grew up in the Lower Mainland and while we could drive to the mountains or the beach in less than an hour, it’s just not the same as having such easy access to the riches of nature we have around here. It’s glorious, we are blessed, and I love showing it off.

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This summer we’ve spent many a weekend exploring trails we haven’t done before — from the grandeur of Elk Falls up in Campbell River to the simplicity of the Mill Bay Nature Park and it’s hidden-in-plain-sight painted rocks closer to home. We’ve hiked on the west coast and here on the east coast and loads of spots in between. It’s been fun because our kids are getting old enough to hold their own for longer, and to do trails with a little more difficulty. In truth, we still have to carry them on our backs sometimes though, and my back reminds me every time that I’m not getting any younger.

There’s just something about nature that we really enjoy. You live here too, so I don’t feel like I need to explain what that something is… you probably already know and if you don’t, I encourage you to go find out for yourself.

Anyway, through the miles and miles (sorry, kilometres and kilometres) of trails we’ve done, there have been a few relative certainties: slugs, bugs, stops for water, and the need for my children to walk without picking up their feet with the sole purpose (see what I did there?? Sole purpose… I crack myself up) to stir up enough dust to coat their parents’ lower legs.

Those are just the relative certainties though. There is one certain certainty: their inherent need to pick things up.

My son began the trend a few years ago with the odd “special” rock here or there. It’s progressed to a moderate addiction over the years.

When we finished the Cowichan River Footpath loop with my folks last weekend (by my watch, it was just over three kilometres) my husband had two pockets full of rocks, a maple leaf hanging from each shoulder strap of his backpack, and without exaggeration, maybe a dozen sticks in his hand. I’m grateful my kids didn’t feel compelled to pick up all the little frogs we saw.

Most of the time we covertly discard the majority of their prized collections either as we walk, or near the car when we finish the hike. We want nature to stay, well, in nature. The kids quite often forget what they’ve amassed, though sometimes we do get reprimanded for our “carelessness”. Sometimes, though, something special makes it into the trunk. That’s why you’ll find a peculiar grouping of sticks and rocks in our front garden. I’m not sure where else to put them. Maybe one day we’ll go “release” it all back into nature.

The kids probably just collect things they think are cool or in some way special, but I like to think it’s because they want to hang onto the memories we are creating on our hikes.

There’s going to come a day when our post-hike pockets are empty and there’s no handful of sticks to be found. There may well be a day (and I hope it doesn’t happen) when the kids won’t want to hike with us anymore at all. So, for now, if you pass us out on the trails — with dirty shins, pockets full of rocks, bundles of sticks in our hands, and a kid on each of our backs, ignore the grumpy, pained looks on our faces — we’re actually having the time of our lives.



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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