Exploring Our Own Backyard

This post is part of our ongoing “Adventures in Social Distancing” series.

Technically, the kids and I were on spring break this week. We had been looking forward to this time off work and school for a while now. Weeks in advance, I put together a tentative list of fun activities and outings for us to choose from, such as a day trip to the nearby town of Yellow Springs and visits to local museums and parks. Heck, I even used special stickers to spell out “S-P-R-I-N-G B-R-E-A-K” on our family calendar in the living room. Special stickers!

I even used special stickers to spell out "S-P-R-I-N-G B-R-E-A-K" on our family calendar in the living room.

The arrival of COVID-19 just happened to coincide with our spring break, which meant, of course, our plans had to change. No more going out and doing fun stuff all week. Or even having friends over to hang at our house for video game marathons and sleepovers. The kids and I simply had to stay home, just us, and make our own fun right here. (Aside: Hubs/Dad had planned to work this week as usual. Because his day job involves customer service for a large “essential” retail store, he doesn’t have the luxury of working remotely or hunkering down. Another story for another day.)

Into the woods

I figured exploring our own backyard would count as a "fun spring break activity" that could be done while social distancing.

Lately, James has shown some interest in the woods behind our house. We’ve lived here for 10 years now, and have on occasion poked around back there. But it’s been a while, and with James’ renewed curiosity, I figured exploring our own backyard would count as a “fun spring break activity” that could be done while social distancing.

“C’mon, kids, get your shoes and jackets on. We’re going exploring!” I announced one morning. They needed no convincing. After several days of wayyy too much screentime, both kids were ready to get outside. We headed out to the deck, down the steps, past the dogs’ land mines, and opened the fence gate to the great wilderness beyond.

Suburban wilderness

Our definition of "wilderness" might differ from yours, depending on where you live.

Full disclosure: We live in the ‘burbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, not the backcountry of Alaska. Our definition of “wilderness” might differ from yours, depending on where you live. But considering we have no houses in sight behind us, and the woods stretch down to the creek (our property line about .5 acre from the house) and up the hill to an empty field, we feel like we’re really out in the wild back there. It’s pretty neat.

The kids started navigating the best trail down to the creek, then looked for where we should attempt to cross. It’s only maybe 3-5 feet across, but we found a good spot with some rocks to step on and a fallen log to shore up our steps. Over the creek we went. The kids enjoyed discovering interesting items as we walked, originating from Mother Nature (deer bones, fossils) and humans (old air conditioning unit, 1970s-era Coca Cola can).

The kids enjoyed discovering interesting items as we walked, originating from Mother Nature (deer bones, fossils) and humans (old air conditioning unit, 1970s-era Coca Cola can).

Surrounded by nature

I noticed how alive the woods were with sounds: of birds signing, the creek bubbling over rocks, squirrels hopping from tree to tree. We observed trees that had been struck by lightning, limbs blackened and split apart. Cassie wanted to lead us up to the meadow where she and a friend had gone before. Cassie and James took the steep, straight way up the hill. I chose an easier, zig-zagging path to the top. We passed some little spring-fed puddles (not even big enough to call them ponds) and pushed honeysuckle branches out of our way. Eventually, the three of us emerged from the woods into the meadow Cassie remembered.

We observed trees that had been struck by lightning, limbs blackened and split apart.

Finding our family totem

In the clearing, James noticed an object lying on the ground. We approached it, and he picked up the object for a closer look. “MOM, what’s a plastic owl doing way out here? Who left this here?!” James said. Indeed, we found an owl perched on a PVC pipe post. Cassie suggested we take the owl home with us. I figured someone dumped this owl out here like the other random trash we’d found, so why not? Just as we picked up the owl, a small garden snake slithered in the grass nearby and James screamed. “I wasn’t screaming because I was scared! I was just STARTLED!” he insisted.

Ultimately, we decided on "Howl the Owl," and he would live in our front flower bed next to "Om the Gnome."

With our prize owl totem in hand and our hearts pumping thanks to the live snake encounter, we decided it was time to head back. Instead of going back through the woods, we took the “civilized” way home. That is, we headed up to the church located at the edge of the field, and walked along the road back into our neighborhood. As we walked, taking turns holding the owl on a post, the kids debated what we should name our new friend. Ultimately, we decided on “Howl the Owl,” and he would live in our front flower bed next to “Om the Gnome.” We said hello to some neighbors we passed (from a safe distance) and generally basked in the good vibes of sunshine, fresh air, and exercise-induced endorphins.

What treasures await?

I think our whole excursion lasted about 90 minutes. But I can tell you the memories of exploring our own backyard will last much longer — way beyond this quarantined spring break. And it’s something we probably never would have done if we’d had the option of going out to museums, day trips, and other shiny adventures. Wherever you happen to live, I encourage you to seek out those close-to-home places you may have taken for granted or ignored in the “before times.” Who knows what wonders might await you today in your own backyard?

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