Long Walks On Leafy Streets

7/22/2020 Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, Washington DC    
Hiking with Prashant

This pandemic, with all its problems and the tremendous misery and loss it has inflicted on millions of people, has also been a learning experience. Sometimes in life we need something or someone to wake us up, ask difficult questions, and get us thinking and working. These past four months have been an extended retreat experience that has done that, perhaps to an extreme degree. Somehow we managed to get through it and (so far) are coming out the better for it.

We got to spend more time working from home but we also were able to do many things we haven't done in a long time. We met virtually with family members we have never seen, family members who are living in different parts of the world. We were able to do things in our house with our own hands.
I made a raised garden bed out of discarded wood including Prashant's old bed. We got to spend more time with each other and deepen our understanding of each other. I managed to write up a paper, write more on this blog, and do more reading. In particular I want to mention an excellent course on Indian Philosophy by Prof. Ram Murty at Queens University. We got to explore different places, especially parks and wildlife refuges, all within 30 miles of DC. The best part of it was that I got to spend a lot of time with Prashant, much of it hiking in the woods.

Last summer around this time we were in Rehoboth beach. We stayed at a hotel about 3 miles from it and spent time at the beach and boardwalk. The highlight, at least for me, was watching the sunrise with Nicole and Prashant. Prashant was a bit whiny at having to sit on the beach so early in the morning but what do you expect? He was only four years old. But he did enjoy watching dolphins swimming by in front of us.

We will miss that this summer. Although it is possible, we decided that it would be too stressful during this time of the pandemic to visit the beach. The point of going to the beach is to relax, after all. As I wrote in a previous post, we did get a bit of consolation in the form of some sandbanks by the Patuxent river, and to a lesser extent, by the Rock Creek. Prashant got to play with the sand, feel the cool stream water on his face, enjoy throwing sticks and stones on the water, and watch water-skaters and tadpoles.

As mentioned before, Prashant really loves animals. His two (current) favorite shows are Wild Kratts and Octonauts. Wild Kratts is about the Kratt brothers exploring interesting animals all over the world in both real life and in animation. Octonauts is almost entirely a cartoon of quirky characters exploring creatures of the ocean. Both are very educational at the same time as engaging. In fact, it is hard to get him to stop watching it once he starts. We try to limit it to a certain amount of time, mainly in the afternoons.

So when we go hiking, he is always on the lookout for animals, whether they be on the land, water or in the air. I bought him a pair of high-quality binoculars for his birthday and we take it with us wherever we go. I am not much of a birder, but the highlight was when we got to observe some raptors (hawks or eagles, I am not sure) near Great Falls and a red-eared slider in the canal around there.

Hiking with Prashant has been a great experience for me as well. Normally hiking for me is a time to commune with nature, get some quiet time to free the mind or just think about some things. But when I go with Prashant now it is an adventure. We are constantly on the lookout for animals, so in every moment, every step, and around every bush, tree, and rock a discovery is awaiting us. Sometimes we go an entire trip without finding anything special and he gets a little disappointed. Today we hiked in Turkey Run park in Virginia. We left relatively early from home to beat the heat. There were very few people on the trail. We had hiked close to an hour and hadn't seen anything. I didn't want to disappoint him, so I started turning over some logs to see what is underneath. (I would always put them back the way they were). Under one log we saw a couple of slugs. He had never seen slugs, so that was a bit of a consolation prize.

By now he also knows a lot more about animals than me, although I must say I don't know a lot myself. He often corrects me and sometimes it feels as if he enjoys doing that, although I am sure it is just his desire to express his knowledge and his opinions. For example, today we saw an interesting triangular moth. He insisted it was a butterfly because, he said, moths are nocturnal. Once when we were hiking in Roosevelt Island we saw something run inside a hollow tree trunk. He said that was a skink (lizard). I said it could be a snake but then he told me snakes don't have legs but this one had. In retrospect I think he was right!

He has a good eye for spotting animals and insects. Often while we are hiking he would be the first to spot something and alert us. He is especially excited by animals that can camouflage. One of his favorite things to talk about is the different ways animals can blend into their surroundings to protect themselves. While we are walking, he would keep up a nonstop commentary on animals mixed in with anecdotes from Wild Kratts and Octonauts. He does that with Nicole as well. Sometimes I feel like I really am there just to escort him, that I don't need to teach him much. Indeed, perhaps he has more to teach me than I do for him.

Directory Previous