I think its safe to assume that most people remember their childhood as idyllic, everything from their house to the surrounding neighborhood akin to something you’d see on black-and-white television shows, only real.
I’m one of those people.
I grew up in a great neighborhood. I had one best friend living in the house behind mine and another up the street and two blocks over. I walked to school every morning and could name the occupants in most of the homes along the way. Our house was located on a dead end, so we had free rein to use the street for tennis games and street hockey. We had some intense games that spanned several blocks, thanks to the vast number of kids in a similar age range and neighbors who didn’t mind their yards being used as detours.
As I mentioned in last month’s column, the only downside to my neighborhood was that it was a terrible location for lemonade stands. Well, you take the good with the bad, and the woods just beyond my backyard more than made up for that one blight.
Our neighborhood was situated on a hill. All roads that led to it were steep, just like the woods that surrounded one side, leading to the public park below. I assume the thick wood poles and woven wire mesh looped in-between at the trees’ border was the city’s effort to keep people from hiking through the trees when there was a safe entrance several miles away.
What’s the fun in that?
My friends and I played in the woods all the time. We’d follow the trails created by our older siblings or, if we were feeling adventurous, make some of our own. We found a clearing protected from the view of the park’s main road thanks to a few fallen trees and claimed it as our clubhouse. We rarely played house, though, preferring to see our 9-year-old selves as spies. We’d run between the trees, eager to watch the families having picnics or people fishing in the river. In hindsight, quite dull activities, but in our mind, there were shady deals happening every day. If we weren’t there to keep an eye on things, who knows what would have happened?
When we weren’t doing our part to keep the world safe, we invented ways to entertain ourselves. Once, when the thought of waiting for winter to go sledding seemed unbearably long, we decided to see if our plastic sled would work just as well in October.
Leaves are slick, folks. And trees don’t budge. One of my friends lost her glasses that day. She had to search for them with a penlight — the only light we could sneak out of the house without arousing suspicion. Luckily, this story has a happy ending. She found them just before we had to head home.
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That same friend got poison oak the time we decided to hike up a new path. It was steeper than our usual route home, so we formed a human chain to work as a team and pull each other to the top. It seemed like a great plan until the tree branch the leader was holding on to snapped and we all went tumbling down. No one was hurt, but Kristal landed in a patch of poison oak.
Nine-year-old girls are tough. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
We spent less time in the woods as we got older and our schedules started filling with organized activities. There also was that shift from the neighborhood boys being icky to, well, kind of cute. Still, even as a high schooler or a college student visiting during break, I’d find myself wandering the woods when I needed to get away. It was comforting in a way that few things are when you’re a teenager. As Henry David Thoreau said, “I took a walk in the woods, and came out taller than the trees.”
It was the freedom playing in the woods as a child that led to my love of hiking. It’s my all-time favorite outdoor activity, no matter the season. I love hiking in the fall when the landscape is surrounded by ever-changing colors. I love hiking in the winter when the silence is enveloping. Spring hikes are a much-needed break from winter, the tiny tufts of green fighting against the gray sludge of old snow a visual promise that warmer days are near. And summer ... well, once you have insect spray and plenty of water, you can deal with anything Mother Nature has to offer.
We’re lucky to live in an area where so many great hiking spots are a short drive away. You’ll usually find me on the trails that surround Lake Macbride, but I’ve been known to drive further for longer excursions. Years ago, my husband and I took our kids hiking in Badlands National Park, and our daughter joyfully announced that it was better than the mall.
Of course, the key to making every hike safe and enjoyable is preparation. You need the right shoes, the correct clothing, water, insect repellent ... it’s a long list. You also need to have snacks.
The list of possibilities for snacks is even longer.
Despite my love of playing in the woods, I’ve never truly gone camping outside of sleepaway camp, and even that took place in cabins with electricity and running water. The one time my parents attempted to take the family camping, we were driving home by midnight. I’m pretty sure we spent more time setting up our tents than sleeping in them.
When I think of outdoor cuisine, I’m not referring to those who make meals over an open fire. I’ve attended demonstrations of Dutch oven cooking and it’s amazing what people can do, but that’s not for me. I’m a snacks person. I like to grab what I need for a few hours of fresh air, but still enjoy the luxury of a shower before bed.
Here are a few quick and easy recipes that will have you out of the kitchen and on the hiking trail faster than my friend tumbled down that hill.
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup any variety nuts, chopped
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup whole wheat flakes cereal or toasted rice cereal
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
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Cream margarine, honey and a brown sugar in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla extract. Mix remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the liquid mixture.
Oil baking sheets. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place them 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Source: “High Trail Cookery: All-Natural, Home-Dried, Palate-Pleasing Meals for the Backpacker” by Linda Frederick Yaffe (Chicago Review Press; 1997)
NO-BAKE TRAIL MIX ENERGY BITES
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup mini candy-coated chocolate candies
1/2 to 3/4 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons honey
In a mixing bowl, stir together oats, raisins, peanuts, chocolate chips, and candies.
In small saucepan over low heat, stir together 1/2 cup peanut butter and honey until melted. Let cool slightly so chocolate doesn’t melt. Pour over trail mix and stir to combine. If you can roll into balls, melt the other 1/4 cup peanut butter and add that.
Roll into 1-inch balls and refrigerate until ready to serve.
BAKED POTATO CHIPS
2 large baking potatoes scrubbed but not peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly oil two large baking sheets.
Cut potatoes into 1/16-inch-thick slices. Place the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets. Sprinkle them with the salt and white pepper.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown, turning them once while baking.
Let cool completely before storing them in individual serving-sized containers.
Variation: If you want to add some spice to your chips, sprinkle the potato slices with 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoon chili powder along with the salt and pepper.
Source: “Backpack Gourmet: Good Hot Grub You Can Make at Home, Dehydrate, and Pack for Quick, Easy, and Healthy Eating on the Trail” by Linda Frederick Yaffe (Stackpole Books; 2002)