"Mommy! I'm a good hiker, aren't I?"
His little Bogs boots crunched across the snow-covered, frozen boardwalk. Every few feet my son would pause to stomp an ice ball, peer into a dark hole or swipe his mitten through a tuft of downy snow before plopping it promptly on his tounge.
"Of course your are," I said. "You can be my hiking buddy any day."
Slowly but surely we had made it to the meadows above our house on Douglas Island. Here, a little user-made trail winds its way deep into the Tongass and eventually ties into the Treadwell Trail. We were far from that intersection, but our short hike was already a milestone for the four-year-old in the family who had hiked the entire way.
And that's no easy feat. The trail is one of the worst in Juneau, I'd say. On it's really bad days (after a week of hard rain) it looks like the forest animals had used the path for mud wrestling. The roots are slippery as is the boardwalk, which is now so decrepit one may mistake it for just another rotting trailside log. There's also large obstacles to step over and many branches to brush aside. All of these things must seem even more daunting, I'm sure, if you have short little legs.
But the trail improves in the winter season. So we figured it was worth a try.
A few neighbors had packed down the singletrack a day or so prior. The snow made a nice squeak, squeak as we shuffled along and in a few spots — where the muck was especially deep or the current swift — water remained unfrozen.
Of course, there was much to discover for the curious. Little tracks in the snow were pondered. Unidentified dark spots in the woods were either deer or bears. And then there were the "ice curls" also known in our family as "ice flowers" because they seem to grow right out of the frozen dirt. On one especially long, steep climb moisture had been forced out of the hillside and seemed to have frozen immediately. The curls were about six inches long with roughly the same diameter as a straw; some thinner than others. At first, my son gingerly picked them and watched as they melted quickly between our fingers. Then, in true boy form, he took to stomping those that "grew" too close to the trail.
We hiked on for about an hour, until we got too cold and too hungry to keep going. It was then, my little hiker decided his father's shoulders looked enticing and he hitched a ride back home.
We arrived home cherub-cheeked and smiling. Hot tea with honey was a welcome treat and the best part? Both kids napped oh so well that day!