To Look At….Or To See
I’ve hiked the trail to Twin Falls outside of North Bend, WA a few times. And when I say, “a few times,” what I really mean is “a lot.” A quick tally in my head after a co-worker asked how many times I had been on the trail brought the number close to 20, if you included the potential number of times I will hike it this summer with Summer Program kids.
The reason for the large number is simple: it’s a great hike for kids from elementary through middle school ages. This is especially true when the kids are urban kids, often times ones who are on a hike for the very first time. Over the course of the 3 mile round-trip trail there are climbs that are challenging for most kids, there’s the chance to play around in the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, you pass an old growth tree that was most likely standing in that same spot when the Union and Confederacy were at war, and there’s the great view of the falls from an observation deck built on the hillside directly across from the falls at the end. So if you’re scoring at home, there’s a challenge for the kids, there are learning opportunities for them along the way, and then there’s the pay-off of seeing a really cool waterfall. It’s almost the perfect hike for kids.
As a result of being on the trail so many times with kids over the last 4 summers, I’ve almost got the trail down to a science. I know where and when the kids will need to stop to rest and drink some water, I know how long it takes groups of different sizes and ages to hike the trail, I’ve got a few educational moments for the kids that I hit on almost every hike, and I know exactly what time we need to turn around in order to get back to the van to beat traffic coming back into Seattle. I even know a few places to offer a bathroom stop before we get to the trailhead since 95% of the kids would rather be in the agony that comes with holding it than go into the non-flushing trailhead “outhouse”.
This in-depth knowledge of the trail can be both a positive and a negative however. On the one hand, I feel pretty confident about taking any group out there at any point. On the other hand, the trail can become incredibly monotonous. Rarely is there something new to see for me, and if there is it’s a slug on the trail or 4 chipmunks hoping for dropped crumbs at the benches rather than 3. Sometimes, like Henry David Thoreau talks about in his essay, “Walking,” I can drift through the entire hike in body only, without ever getting there in spirit.
That wasn’t the case last week though. Last week I hiked the trail twice: once with an elementary group and once with a middle school group. Even though several of the kids from both groups had done the hike with me before, these two days both offered the chance to hike the trail as if I was doing it for the first time. Everything was amazing to the kids, from the trees to the water to the birds singing to the waterfall. Cameras and camera phones were clicking left and right, and around almost every corner one of the kids let out a “WHOOOOOAA!” reaction to something they were seeing. For 4 hours over the course of 2 days, I was brought back to the reason I love the outdoors: the opportunity to explore, to be inspired, to see something new, to feel small, and to step away from the frantic pace of the city.
Thoreau also once said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” My job for the summer is to take kids into the outdoors and show them the wonders of Creation. But for these two days last week, the opposite was true: the kids were showing those wonders to me. They were enabling me to once again see the things that I had fallen into only looking at.