This last weekend was my weekend with the boys. I decided to take a trip out to Thomas Mitchell Park, a little ways outside the Des Moines Metro area. One of my best friends and his wife were completing moving into my building and cleaning up their old place, so I took along their son, one of my pseudo-nephews. It started off as a nice little day trip, to get the boys out of the apartment and out of the city into nature for a few hours.
Josh and Buggy love this kind of stuff, where they get to run around freely without worries of traffic, and do whatever comes to their imaginations. My nephew on the other hand, was mostly confined to the city, and not exposed much to the more natural world. At first he was scared to leave the adult company too far behind while we went along one of the walking trails. It took awhile but soon he found himself confident and comfortable enough to keep up with my boys, playing in the creek and building a rock dam across the waterway along with some other kids who were out there.
At this point in my writing I find myself frustrated. Some of what I intended to write here would make more sense or have some context of hilarity with accompanying pictures. However either my computer or blogger is being stupid and uploading photos seems to be an impossibility. I'm a bit on the special side and need (more than just prefer) visual aids to go along with my writing. Kind of like a kindergartner, I like illustrations to go with the story, whether I'm reading it or being read to.
Anyways, after walking the trails, we came upon the creek that runs through the park, and across the creek is the campgrounds. Kids were in the creek playing, building a dam of rocks across the stream. It took no time or encouragement for my kids to strip their shoes and socks off and join in on the engineering project. My nephew was a little hesitant, and soon came out of the creek saying it was too slippery in the creek bed for his liking. After some coaxing, he went back in and soon found it pleasing to have the sand and mud and rocks under his feet in the water. He and Buggy also discovered natural clay. It didn't take long to have their hands covered in the stuff as they grabbed it up out of the water squished it through their fingers! Josh seemed quite at home moving rocks with the other kids from one part of the creek to the new dam they were building. Although he found that being the biggest kid there (he's 12 years old, almost as tall as me, and wears men's 9 1/2 shoes), he got volunteered to grab some of the bigger rocks to lug over to what would be the rocks new home along with the others that helped block up the waterway. Or rather, created a very short shallow set of rapids as the water rushed in between and over some of the rocks.
After a few hours of romping around in the creek, we headed back to the city, bringing my nephew back home, and had decided, thanks in part to a family friend I had with me, that we would return to the park and camp out over night.
We stopped at the grocery store to pick up some food supplies, and grabbed sleeping bags, blankets, and clothes from home to take with us. Being the manly man that I am, I opted to do the sleeping under the stars version of camping. We're no sissies! We don't need no stinking tents!
I bought some firewood from the camp hosts. (apparently, they pay people to camp out at these parks, and assist the visitors... what a job to have!) They delivered it, and the man asked if we were just sleeping on the ground and no tent. I let him know that yes, in fact we were. He made some reference to me having had to be military in the past. Also true. And they went on their way leaving us to cook our hot dogs and smores over the campfire. Sometime after it got dark, the local park cop, the DNR's version of a rentacop (even the government can't hold such a high standard of rentacoppin like the private industry- and mainly me- can), comes by and asks where our tent is. I inform him of our non-sissy standards, and he informs me that "we don't really permit sleeping under the stars."
REALLY? It's friggin Iowa. It's not like I have to worry about venomous ducks wandering through, or wild dingos coming to eat my children. In which case, a measly tent isn't going to stop either. There is absolutely no rain in the forecast. I paid the $13 for the night's stay. Who cares if I sleep in a sleeping bag only, or inside a sleeping bag located inside a tent? Apparently the county park authorities do. I'm not really sure why, but at after 9pm, I don't see it wise to have a pissing match with the park cop and getting us all kicked out. I would've satisfied my ego having stood up to the park cop, but disappointed the kids when we got banned for life or something. So it didn't really seem worth the hassle.
I decided to drive into town to grab my friend's tent. It is freaking huge and has a lot of parts. Putting that thing together in the dark was not my idea of fun. So on the way, I detoured to Walmart and bought a $60 tent that was big enough to serve our needs, gives me a tent of my own, and best of all, easy to assemble. Even in the dark it was no more than 10 minutes from opening the kit to having the ten up and ready to go.
In the midst of the night, a raccoon invaded our campsite. I was sitting on the picnic table bench with my friend watching the fire when we hear somnething. We both thought I had knocked over my Pepsi. As I shifted, out skitters a raccoon from under the table. The raccoon and I eyeballed each other from a distance of about 5 feet, both quite surprised to see each other. I guess I sat by the fire so still he wandered in not noticing me, and me not noticing him.
Once I get a fire going, I can sit there for hours just watching it. When I go visit my parents, Dad and I can do that in his backyard, and just lose all track of time. And so, here I was doing that very same thing as my boys slept in their new tent. Eventually I let the fire die down and retired to go to sleep.
The next morning was a slow start, but plenty early as most camping trips I always wake up way early for some reason. Josh wandered off to play some basketball with a couple kids he met there, and is now friends with, as they too live in Des Moines. Later on, my two boys and this brother and sister went exploring as much of the trail and the creek as possible. They managed to catch frogs and minnows with their bare hands, and generally just ran around like kids. I spent a little bit of time in the creek, but kept to the dry areas, never removing my socks and shoes. I got to see some frogs and tadpoles, some butterflies and moths...and of course spy on the kids a bit as they waded up and down the creek doing their thing.
As I mentioned, Josh is 12. He isn't quite tot he point of liking girls yet. Although at one point as they all waded through the creek in their swimsuits, I noticed the 13 year old sister and he close together a few times, but as soon as he noticed he was being seen, he made definite separation. Subconciously he likes her, it just hasnt made it to the part of his brain where he actually realizes it yet. As the Mook, I would've teased him for it. However as his father, I left it alone.
This last week I recieve multiple missed calls from strange numbers. On Wednesday I actually answered a call (I almost never answer numbers I dont recognize). It was the 11 year old boy calling to hang out. So I went to pick the boy up, and upon further discovery I found out the other strange but close phone number was his sister... the girl in the story. MULTIPLE missed calls.... I see Josh using his friend to get to the sister some years from now. Kids! sheesh.
Anyways, back to the campsite. At one point, Bug was enjoying himself and was up near me. He made the comment that he wished he lived there. He has said this before about spots where he's had woods to run through and a creek to play in, so it didn't surprise me much. He's only 7 1/2 years old, and as long as he has a fun spot to play in like this, he's more than content, and wouldn't ever miss the conveniences of the city. Personally I don't blame him, but the city is where we live. But it was definitely a fun time getting out in the "sticks" with the boys to run around in more than just a city park. And of course, not having to worry about crossing heavy traffic to go from one place to the next is always nice.
All in all, it was a great time. We already have another trip lined up for our next weekend together.