Over Hill and Over Dale

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

My sport of choice has always been running. You would think that translates into a deep and meaningful relationship with the outdoors, but it wasn't until I became a mom and slowed to a stroller-paced crawl that I began to take a closer look at what was around me.

Don't get me wrong: I have fond memories of scenery from the running routes I've known in my lifetime. But as I think back, I've realized that most of those memories have more to do with my running than with the countryside I was running through. Shade trees were there to cool me. Landmarks like bridges and osprey nests were there to mark distance that I could time myself over. Even a salt-water creek was there for my foot-cooling needs.

My relationship with nature was purely functional and very selfish. But then, once I started pushing a stroller or walking with a preschooler, I actually started to look at what was around me. And listen.

And smell. And even stop to touch. (Didn't taste, though. I might have been a hiking newbie but I wasn't a complete idiot.)

I remember one time I was hiking through Highbanks Metro Park. I think my daughter was no more than 3 at the time, and we had flown the home coop on a bright fall morning. As we were walking along that one ridge that leads to the nature center, something caught my eye.

I peered into the woods and there, atop a jagged dead tree, I saw a snake (don't ask me what kind: I only identify snakes on a need-to-know basis). The snake had wedged itself between two shards of the tree's wood. At first I thought it was stuck, but then I realized it was using its wedged position to shed its skin. We were mesmerized and stood there watching for who knows how long. It was extraordinary.

Another time I took the kids down to the Hayden Run Fall, that glorious little oasis in the midst of suburbia. It was my son's first time there (and before they erected the protective walkway and fencing). He clambered off over the rocks along the water's edge and shouted back at me, "I was born for this!" It still makes me a little tearful to think about how happy that experience was for him.

As we planned this year's themes for Columbus Parent issues, we leapt on the opportunity to do one about outdoor adventure. We figured May would be the right time to start reacquainting ourselves and our readers with the great outdoors (and after the winter we've just had, I know our timing is right).

When my colleague John Ross filed his story about family-friendly hiking trails, it was all I could do to not load the family into the car and head out for a week's worth of adventure. I especially love the range of options he found.

And words cannot describe how delicious the dishes were that I sampled when Tim Wheeler and his family were kind enough to share their campfire cooking expertise with us. I hope the recipes and photos will inspire you to give this kind of outdoor cooking a try (and it's amazing what kids will eat if they made it themselves, using real fire to cook it).

So check out all the ideas we have this month and then get yourselves outside!