Each summer we trek a couple of hundred kilometres to camp at Kejimkujik one of Canada’s east coast national parks. For the kids it’s an unparalleled play ecosystem – woods, water, wildlife, wonder. They always have something close at hand in the natural environment that is readily transformed into adventure.
This trip, we are tucked away in the far corner of a walk in area. The cozy comfort of familiarity is all around us. We’ve tented here several times over the years on solo family excursions and with friends. A small inlet is just down the path where rocks, a mighty old tree and gently rippling water beckon.
Gathering moss and lichen from old man tree
Since our last stay, old man tree is no longer reaching skyward. Cracked at the trunk and toppled, its growing days are over. But like the tree in Shel Silverstein’s story (original animation video) it continues to give. Now, it’s a in situ natural playscape – jungle gym, balance beam, bouncy ride.
In past visits when the tree was still stretching its branches and popping leaves to catch the sun it was ‘the’ climbing place. The two older kids risked their first unaided climbs here getting purchase on the rough bark as they inched up the trunk’s steep incline and made the tricky transition onto the primary branch that pushed out almost parallel to the ground.
From ‘The Book of Play’
There is a sadness seeing this green friend prone and broken down. It’s a tree that will stand tall in my memories as the kids’ starter climber, the bridge for their first magical trip from earth to sky.
As I walk to the playground to get the kids for a meal, they are shouting excitedly about their latest discovery. They’re juiced, bouncing around their find, poking about inside, adding branches to a rootsy, vernacular space.
For a few minutes this is the jackpot. All energies are devoted here as plans are hastily conceived to create a similar treasure. The rapid progression of seeing, touching and doing makes the possibility of actually being den makers all the more real to them. The den is perfection. It is cozy and built to their scale with branches and sticks gathered from the forest floor.
Back on the inlet’s rocky shore, Nellie-Rose starts floating leaf boats. Before long, the three kids are marine architects constructing moss boats with twig masts. An impromptu regatta gets underway with seven or eight of these ‘mossies’ getting launched into a lazy current and meandering out into open water. Two or three are crewed by tiny toads – Nellie’s touch – who sit transfixed on their small islands.
Mossie crewed by a toad
These moments of fun and inventiveness, of laughter and togetherness are timeless, a kids in nature blockbuster story in the making.
At night above the canopy we can see specks of shimmery light as stars flit about and satellites skip across the sky. There is something about natural open spaces that buffers the daily chaos, soothes the city’s madness and sparks delight like magic embers arcing in the night.
Whose woods are these I think I know
Their laughter’s sweet enough to sow
Lost in play they do not see
The lengthening shadows as they grow
These woods are airy, light and sweet
But I have miles to go before we meet
Miles and miles before we meet
The ones whose love makes us complete
(Apologies to Robert Frost)
A day played out to a natural rhythm and tucked in with the best night sky viewing Nova Scotia can offer.
Thanks kids, thanks Keji – we’ll be back.