The call of a waterfall and a serendipitous stick

2009-11-05 00:00

I AM happy to assure all the keen hikers out there that it is now safe to go walking in the Champagne Valley in the Drakensberg. There are no more “baddies”. Jason thoughtfully killed them all when we were there recently.

As we are keen walkers, we introduced our children to this pastime while they were still young. Admittedly it’s a lot easier to get carried around in a backpack than it is to do the walking yourself, and the view is better too. However, thanks to fairly regular walks with us and much-loved rambles with their grandparents, Jason and Anna are now keen walkers too.

You’d never have thought so if you’d heard them as we climbed the hundreds of steps up to the Crystal Falls recently. It was one of those glorious Chardonnay days that make us wonder why we don’t go more often. The children were mostly oblivious to it. They set off like puppies newly released from confinement in a kennel, but their energy and spirits flagged when they saw the path winding up the mountain steeper than the longest snake on a snakes and ladders board. And there were no ladders to help either.

“You mean we have to get all the way up there?” said Anna, hands on her hips, “like another bolshie woman I know”, said her father. He was out of reach so I couldn’t cuff him in that affectionate way that Ben Trovato klaps Brenda and puts her in hospital. “Wow,” said Jason, his cap pushed back in order to see just how high it was. “That’s going to take us all day.”

Well, it didn’t take all day, but it ­certainly felt like it, especially towards the end, when Anna’s whining sounded like a whole hit squad of mosquitoes. There was a miraculous recovery the moment she heard the sound of the ­waterfall. She bounded off again determined to be first there and earn the title of “Zero the Hero”.

Jason and I took a lot longer to get there as he was engaged in an important task: killing bad guys. Somewhere along the way he had found the answer to one of life’s million dollar questions: “How do you get a small boy up a mountain without too much complaining?” The answer should be obvious to those of us responsible for small boys, but it hadn’t been to me until I saw the transformation that came over Jason once he found it: a stick.

Someone had thoughtfully left on the path, a stick just right for sword fighting, martial arts, stick fighting and ­being a helicopter and aeroplane propeller. A sturdy, straight stick about a metre long, it has come to live with us as one of Jason’s most treasured ­possessions.

I quickly realised we needed some Rules for Stick Usage before we left a trail of devastation all the way up the mountain and down again. After brief negotiations, we agreed that living ­organisms were off limits, but dead things were fair game. Stones became balls and every dead shrub an evil alien or Gormiti requiring elimination. Thanks to that stick, Jason managed the rest of the trail easily.

We had forgotten to take along the usual plastic bags for collecting things, which was Mum’s fault (of course). Consequently, I returned from our walk with ­my pockets full of “nature treasures” like seeds, stones, dead bugs and twigs. I drew the line at animal droppings and an already foul-smelling dead crab that Jason found at the waterfall. Those were left to biodegrade and do their thing for the ecosystem.

Based on our growing portfolio of walking experiences with our children, I am gradually drafting a set of guidelines for hiking that I’m magnanimously prepared to share with other parents. Here they are:

 

Marigold’s Tips for (Almost) Painless Hiking with Children

• Take frequent rests in the shade.

• Carry packets for collecting “nature treasures”.

• Pack plenty of “positive reinforcement” snacks, juice and water.

• Put on plenty of sun block and wear a hat.

• Take something to keep flagging ­spirits occupied like a stick or small ­digital camera.

• Sing or play games as you walk, e.g. “I spy” helps develop observation skills.

• Use the opportunity to teach life ­lessons.

On this last point, while we rested at the waterfall enjoying snacks, Dad talked with Jason and Anna about ­perseverance, not giving up and finding ways to keep going. The universe usually has a way of helping us out when we need it. In this case, thank you Mother Universe for the call of a waterfall and a serendipitous stick.

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