From Monday to Thursday evening of last week, I was in the woods. No wi-fi, perilously spotty cell service, and all the fallishness I could ask for.
(And Ali didn’t mind it, either.)
We rented a cabin at Oak Mountain State Park, which is close enough for Chris to commute to work, and the children and I never left the park.
It was glorious.
We didn’t abandon our school – that’s the beauty of homeschooling – it can be done on top of a picnic table by a lake.
We didn’t do a full load of subjects, but our 20+ miles of hiking and half-dozen canoe trips made up for that.
(Science! Physical Education! Field Trips!)
(Some people enjoyed the canoeing more than others.)
I attempted to make the week have an ‘80s vibe – I told the children that they could roam on their own around the cabin area. I gave them boundaries, flashlights, and instructions to GO. EXPLORE. Be children.
With the exception of sound: remember, children, it’s called Tranquility Lake for a reason.
They didn’t really do a good job of all that – they tended to still stay close to me like the flock of geese that twenty-teen children are. But I tried. And I shook them from me a couple times, at least.
My parents came and joined us for a day and night, and with them, as always, came adventure. As they are much more experienced at having eighties kids than me, I totally trusted my dad to row Ali right up to a fairly steep dam and spillway to peer over the edge.
But the more exciting part of that canoe ride was when Dad and Ali spotted a speedily moving object in the water – and began chasing it.
They chased it, it disappeared. They discussed “Could it be an alligator??”
It appeared across the lake, and they chased it again.
Finally, they got close enough for grabbing. It was a very fast-moving fishing pole.
After a few swipes and misses, Ali was able to grab it before it swam off again – but it fought back.
Ali almost dropped the pole once – it was pulling seriously hard.
But whatever The Monster of Oak Mountain was, it broke the line and left Ali as the proud owner of its former fishing pole.
After the Loch Ness excitement, Gramamma helped the kids forage in order to make The World’s Best Fairy
There were beds and tables and lampposts and salads and chicken and water and…
I mean seriously. Some Fairy stumbled across this estate and I’m sure assumed she’d died and gone to heaven. This project definitely counted as “Charity Work” on the school log.
One of the things I most love about staying at Oak Mountain as opposed to visiting (it is, after all, only 30 minutes from my house) is the ability to night hike.
Oak Mountain closes at sunset. When we visit, I’m usually sweating about making it out of there – because I’m pushing it to the last minute to get pictures of the sunset that signifies that I’m about to get locked in.
But if you are staying at Oak Mountain, gates are not an issue. So every night after dinner (I took along a huge pot of soup and grilled cheese makings and that’s what we ate all three nights because soup and grilled cheese are always good in a state park no matter how many nights in a row you’ve eaten it), we’d go on a hike together. I got amazing pictures of these hikes, like this one:
Okay, Chris fared a little better in his nocturnal photographical pursuits:
It was, admittedly, slightly creepy the first night as we walked around the lake, hearing impossibly loud plops in the water. Too far of a drop for turtles…too loud for snakes…too loud for frogs…we never did figure out what we were scaring into the water, but whatever it is, I’m sure it was a fishing-pole-stealing type of monster.
But those hikes became the highlight of our days – we’d all get flashlights or headlamps or both and head out into the completely silent forest, crunching on the leaves and blissfully soaking in the crisp November air. Plus, it gave Chris another way to enjoy his time there, since he was still going to work. (He also got up early and ran, so he felt a decent amount of state-park-relaxation in spite of going to work.)
The kids spent our days split between a little school, a little canoeing, and a lot of hiking.
Oak Mountain has so many trails (over 60 miles, plus a bunch of unmarked trails), so no matter how much we hike out there, there’s always more to see and explore.
Somehow in her foraging, Ali seemed to have stumbled across The Elixir of Perfect Hair – it certainly wasn’t clean or even tangle-freehair, but somehow it looked like this – in the MIDDLE of a hike.
GAH. The magic of youth.
The kids recovered from our walks with a little coffee drinking and a lot of card playing. They might’ve transitioned to adulthood last week.
And Chris and I spent our evenings and mornings staring at the lake and enjoying the silence of sleeping, thoroughly-worn-out children.
On our last day at the park, our cousins came out in the morning for a hike, and our friends came out in the afternoon for a hike. The energy levels provided by having friends to hike with was unbelievable – despite hiking so much in the prior days, Noah was sprinting excitedly up the mountainside when he had his cousins to hang with.
They brought along their massive puppy Macro (still not full-grown), which made it all the more exciting. That dog walks like a lion.
My only complaint about the week was the lack of sun. The temperature was lovely, but the fog made our hike up to the beautiful lookout a bit…anticlimactic.
With a lot of angling and waiting for clouds to thin, the best shot I got of the fall foliage below was…
But the kids didn’t seem to mind. Snacktime still happens on the top of the mountain whether you are enshrouded in fog or not.
In between hikes, we frantically packed up our cabin and checked out, then met our next friends at the demonstration farm,
…which is the residence of the nicest, most fantastically depressed donkey you will ever meet.
Lest you miss him in the corner of the picture, this guy was their lookout while they purloined their sweet ride. He was chosen for his stellar ability to look nonchalant.
We’ve done the whole feeding-the-goats thing before, and it was frankly frightening. You buy a bag of food, and your reward is getting immediately stampeded.
Frankly, you walk up to the window where they sell the food and you’re likely to draw attention.
However, the farm made a massive improvement since our last visit – they now have a fenced off area from which you can feed the animals in safety.
That’s right. At this farm, the humans go in the zoo and the animals come visit them. It’s the way things should be, really.
After our animal needs were filled, we set off on two last hikes.
The first one included Oak Mountain’s fabulous bird trail (where they have rehabilitating owls and birds of prey in large cages tearing apart bloody mice but you don’t feel so bad for the mice after you read the bird’s back-stories on how they ended up there),
Through the woods, during which the kids went through the bottom of this tree stump and ended up in Narnia, as one does,
And, on our last leg of hiking, down to Peavine Falls.
It was the perfect ending to our week of fall, which was just long enough, as I was quite ready to be back in my own bed, with my own shower, and my own refrigerator. And maybe a bit of wi-fi.
But not before I booked us the same trip for next November – only next time, we’ll be staying the full seven days. Because I might be a little addicted to this season.