“Low ebb, high tide. The lowest ebb and highest tide… At the edge of the continent” R.E.M., “I Remember California”

You know the feeling. You show up at the beach, and it’s a nice day with a soft breeze, and… “Hey, Dad, what is this?” And sure, it’s a crab. But don’t you wish you could tell them more than that? I know I do.

So I, the Monkey’s Aunt, and The Mjellyonkey’s Cousin have been spending some time at the beach. And perhaps you have too. And I thought I’d put together a quick bit of research so we can both have some answers to give our little darlings so we sound like the heroes we wish we really were.

But first, a disclaimer for all you bio nerds out there. I do not claim for one second that this is very accurate. Let me make that clear. I will not knowingly steer you wrong, but I can’t claim any exact knowledge. This is about having something to say, not Beach Biology 101 at State U.

That said, let’s talk crabs first. If it’s in a shell, it’s a Hermit Crab. “Is it a boy or a girl, Mama?” C’mon, do I have to tell you this? Pick one and go forward confidently. After that, things get more complex.

But this isn’t all about lying or guessing. If it seems to be what you would traditionally consider a crab, there are three main possibilities. If it has sky blue legs and parts of it’s shell, it’s a Blue Crab. It’s pretty clear. If one claw is obviously bigger than the other, he’s a male Fiddler Crab. For all other crabs, you’re best declaring it a Rock Crab. Just tonight I was snorkeling at our local watering hole, and found one of those. If he seems particularly green, he may well be a Green Crab. A Dungeness Crab, well, you’re on your own, but throw that out there if you’re feeling daring.

Next, we come to birds. You know seagulls. But here’s something you may not know: If you see a brown one, that’s a kid seagull. A teenager. Not a female gull.

If you see a smaller, faster, kinda psychotic little bird that has a black top on its head and bright orange beak, that’s a tern. There are lots of different kinds, but just say it’s an Arctic Tern. One of the farthest migrating birds of all. Goes clear from the North to South Pole. Why? Who knows.

The little buggers with long legs are called Least Sandpipers. And they’re eating either sand fleas or worms. If you tell your kids there’s worms in the sand, you’re in for trouble. So tell them they’re eating bugs in the sand!

At our beach, we also sometimes see swallows. If it moves at nearly the speed of sound, it’s evening, and you hear peeps—that’s a swallow and you should say thank you because they’re eating flying insects.

And if you see a mostly brown bird that looks like it’s wearing a black collar, you’ve spotted the rare Plover. More probably, you’ll see signs warning you that they’re nesting nearby, and telling you to get lost.

That just about covers it. Here’s one more tidbit though—when your kids find seaweed, which they will inevitably do, find the air-filled sacks, and point out how that helps the seaweed (you could call it Kelp if you like but that’s probably not what it is) float on the surface and photosynthesize.

And one more thing: Those black rectangles with thin pointy ends are Stingray Egg Sacks.

Aquarium 2013 009Hope that quick primer helps you out a bit. I’ve heard a lot of questions in preparation for it, I’ll tell you that. And remember, though they may not look like it at the time, your kids are building the foundation for a lifetime of nature appreciation here. If one hermit crab has to have a rough time so that your kid can grow up to value, appreciate, and conserve nature, it’s a small sacrifice that I think is worth making. Of course, you never want to stand idly by while your little monsters torture small animals, but within reason, it’s better for kids to touch, feel, and experience nature. In our house, that works out as: you can play with the hermit crabs, but don’t think you’re going to bring one home to certain death (we tried bringing some home and learned that lesson the hard way).

Happy exploring!

Fall at Indian Springs Metropark (White Lake, Michigan)

When Grace went back to school, Tater and I were at a loss. So much of his time is spent playing with his sister. Now that he was an “only child,” we had some retooling to do. This past summer I visited a lot of area parks doing research for a book. Many of them have nature centers, and I remembered all the time wishing my kids were with me.

So Tater and I decided we needed to check ‘em out. The big question for me was, Are nature centers any fun in the fall? (Heck, are they even open, or are they more seasonal then I imagine.)

Our first trek took us to the Indian Springs Metropark. The swampy sections of the park are the headwaters for the Huron River, which gains much in the way of volume and dignity between here and Lake Erie. The Environmental Discovery Center, as it’s called, overlooks a small pond.

Most of our time was spent outside, looking for snakes and frogs along the shore. Since this is classic massasauga rattler habitat, I was glad it was a cold day. A small brook connects the main pond with a smaller adjacent pond. Much time was spent watching the water flowing between the two.

One of the big attractions at Indian Springs (one surprisingly few people know about) is the Pond Room. The lower level (i.e. basement) of the nature center is below the level of the pond—roughly the same level as the pond floor. A clear tunnel leads out from the main building under the water to a circular domed room. From here you can watch fish swim by and get a close look at the habitat created by logs that have fallen to the bottom.

The Pond Room is my favorite part of the site, but, frankly, it kind of freaked Tater out. Confined underwater spaces, apparently, aren’t his thing. So after the Pond Room we went upstairs and looked at some of the animals on exhibit—a garter snake, salamander, turtles.

All in all a good visit, and Tater now tells his sister that the nature center is “his and daddy’s place,” which is kind of nice too.

Next week we’ll look for someone showing off animals. I think the boy is itching to hold a snake.

My daughter is slightly obsessed with “If a Tree Falls” by Bruce Cockburn. So I wanted to do a bit of a hyperlink experiment with the song. The results follow. Stay tuned afterwards for my thoughts on how this ties into the experience of all of us with our kids, outdoors.

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IF A TREE FALLS

Rain forest:

Mist and mystery
Teeming green
Green brain facing lobotomy
Climate control centre for the world
Ancient cord of coexistence
Hacked by parasitic greedhead scam
From Sarawak to Amazonas
Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills
Cortege rhythm of falling timber.

What kind of currency grows in these new deserts,
These brand new flood plains?

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day
Take out people who’ve lived with this for 100,000 years
Inject a billion burgers worth of beef
Grain eaters — methane dispensers.

Through thinning ozone,
Waves fall on wrinkled earth
Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,
Speak of a drowning
But this, this is something other.
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear
Forever

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

***************

This is of course only one—rather pedantic, but beloved—song that could be used to teach your kids about the outdoors. But there are so many other directions to take this idea:

This is a topic that could be taken in at least three different directions that I’ll discuss here, but I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll come up with many more.

The first is represented by Cockburn’s song. That is listening to adult music with your child and helping them to process it. Jack Johnson’s “The 3 R’s” is a good example of this.

Another path is music created specifically for children. It is slightly easier to find songs that relate to the outdoors in this genre. SteveSongs, “The Water Cycle” or “Spyrtle the Turtle” are great examples, as are many of the songs They Might Be Giants have been putting out for kids lately, particularly on Here Comes Science. “Electric Car” comes quickly to mind.

A third path would be songs that are related tangentially to the outdoors. A song about the plight of Native Americans could bring up great discussion with your child about how they feel about the earth. A song about mythical beings like fairies, mermaids, or the Loch Ness monster might provoke quite a discussion about what all might be out there in nature that we are simply unaware of… which brings us back to the rainforest, where new creatures are discovered all the time.

 

Give this article some life: respond in the comments below how you might use music to teach your child about nature, and I’ll incorporate it into the article itself!

Kids love dinosaurs. I remember years back my friend’s five-year-old son reciting the names of what must have been a hundred dinosaurs. He had dino toys, posters, and place mats. He was even pointing out where lazy editors had misidentified dinosaurs in his books. I am not sure he still retains this info at 12, but it was fascinating to see his level of interest.

So that’s what we’re doing this week: exploring the world of dinosaurs.

  • Monday – Visit the library and get books on dinosaurs. Have a fun reading time, and then using our art supplies we’ll make our favorite dinosaurs
  • Tuesday – A trip to the museum. In our case Dinosaur Ridge in Colorado. Back in Michigan, a couple traveling exhibits have passed through. But you can find dino shows all over.
  • Wednesday – Freeze plastic dinosaurs (or, better yet, plastic bones) in large bowls of water. Using tools, “dig” for the “fossils.” Maybe grow dinosaurs (the rubber kind that grow after soaking a day in water).
  • Thursday – Talk about the relationship between birds and dinosaurs (you can find information on this online). Go outside and watch birds for awhile. Then we’ll cut feathers out of construction paper and glue them on a picture of a dinosaur.

Looking for Fossils

Kids in a Wagon - Nikki MacLeay, all rights reserved

Going on a Bug Hunt with KidsI am without my kids for several weeks this summer. While I waste these gorgeous summer days inside, writing like a madman, Grace and Tater are in Colorado with their cousin, Amelia. To keep order, their Aunt Nikki scheduled daily outings and even went so far as to give each week a theme. Rock on!

This week is bug week, and the kids are having a blast. There have been bug hunts, plastic bugs, workbooks with math lessons (featuring bugs!), a visit to the butterfly pavilion, and notebooks in which each kid can draw a picture of their favorite bug. Yesterday Grace actually touched a tarantula. I couldn’t even get her to pet a hedgehog a couple months back.

Here’s her official schedule of activities:

  • Monday Pom Pom Critters from Jo-Ann Fabrics
  • Tuesday The Butterfly Pavilion, half-mile nature walk with journal to record observations, read Diary of a Spider
  • Wednesday Make rock bugs and nature bugs. These are craft projects using found materials like rocks, sticks, leaves, etc.
  • Thursday Make and wear bug masks. Watch bugs in a bug box using a magnifying glass and draw what you see.

I will be honest: Nothing like this has ever occurred to me. So I am sharing this here and thinking of themes for their return: Tree Week? Water Week? Bird Week? I am just getting started. And with the various resources available online, there are plenty of activities that will boost your efforts, such as adding math or reading into the mix.

I will share next week’s theme next week. In the meantime, what are your ideas?

This started as a post on a cool way to make bubbles. Tater still hasn’t mastered the art of blowing bubbles through that small wand, so we found a way to use old 20-ounce pop bottles and socks to make bubble snakes.

But then I realized that the bubble solution (6 parts water, 2 parts dish soap, 3/4 part corny syrup) was going to be insanely messy. So I added a sprinkler to the mix; our friend Julie brought her son over with an arsenal of water pistols; and we suddenly had the perfect solution for a 95-degree day.

This post will overlap a small bit with my post on simplicity. If you haven’t read that one, you might give it a read.

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These days it would be easy to think kids have changed. That all they want is video games and microwave food. Why aren’t they like we were as kids?

Well, part of it may be our culture: we may be keeping them inside more than they are choosing to stay inside.

But the truth is that given the chance, they haven’t changed at all. I swear! I’ve seen it myself. After kindergarten every day, I pick up my daughter, and she and her friends love more than anything to play in about a 100X100 foot space, containing a miniature pine forest, a very small wetland environment (that most parents won’t let their children anywhere near), and a giant sandbox-ish area that used to be beneath the playground (until they tore it down). And they love it. My daughter would stay there (often does—why take her home to be alone with me when she’s outside with friends?) until every child went home. She loves it. The mess, the stickiness, even the litter (water bottles—they like to pour sand out of them).

Now, while the litter makes me angry and the germs that go along with it make me a little queasy, it’s heartening to see kids climbing trees and getting dirty and being curious about the “swamp.”

So, while I stand there waiting and watching, I have time to think. The school is trying to raise money to buy a new playground. You have no idea how much these structures cost. And I’m helping out where I can. But you know what?

Even though I’m afraid of heights, I wish we could build these kids tree houses. I’m fascinated by them.

I had two as a kid. One was when I was a bit older. It was kind of high. It was in a maple tree on top of a hill, right behind our garage, and it took a bit of climbing to get into. Though I did climb a tree last year just to see if I could, I’m still not sure I could get back up into that thing.

But the tree house I remember most fondly was from another apartment, when I was much younger. My mom made a large, flat platform between four trees—almost a perfect square. I would guess about 6-8 ft. off the ground. High enough to feel protected but not so high that major trauma would result if someone fell off.

I wish I could build that whole micro-forest with platforms like that. Perhaps with some ziplines in between platforms. Or a little box on a pulley! How fun would that be?

Alas, there are insurance concerns, and town clearances, and on and on. But the idea remains. With that in mind, here are some resources I found online that you might consult if you have trees on your own property where you’d like to build a “Castle in the Sky.” Or if, like me, you are just fascinated with them and love to dream.

TREE HOUSE WORKSHOP: is actually the home of three companies in Seattle that have branched out from the original ‘workshop’. The main/original site is home to how-to seminars on the art of building one of these (sometimes quite elaborate) structures. It also has galleries full of tree houses. Nelson Tree house and Supply also launches from here and is more of a storefront.

POP MECH HOW TO: From the venerable Popular Mechanics magazine, this is much more basic than TW. And perhaps more practical as a result.

THE TREE HOUSE GUIDE: The link takes you to the FAQ, but there are many pages to this practical guide that will help you think through exactly what it is that you want to build. The website includes a tree house forum, a review of tree house books available, and more. Quite comprehensive.

ADAM AGAIN’S SONG “TREE HOUSE”: Doesn’t really have anything to do with tree houses, but in all honesty it is the song that plays in my head EVERY time I think about tree houses like this. Worth a listen while you look at the above!

 

Let me know if you have links you think should be here, and check back—I will update with more info when/if I find it, or hear about it through comments!

In preparing your children for the coming apocalypse, you must realize that your month-long stores of canned goods will eventually run out. At some point they will need to emerge from the bomb shelter and hunt radioactive chipmunks if they hope to survive. To that end, they will need some proficiency with the making and use of primitive weaponry.

I jest, but nevertheless, we did make slingshots this week, and we’ve been having a blast shooting pine cones at the side of the garage. Here’s how we made them. You will need latex hose from Home Depot or Lowe’s (it’s the same as surgical tubing but found in the plumbing section), Y-shaped sticks and something to cut them with, string, and a knife to whittle down your ends and cut your string. You will also need some leatherI bought a pair of gloves for $1.50 at the hardware store.

With the trimming shears and a saw we trimmed the sticks to a useful size, attached the hose with a little leather cut-out, secured it with the string, and voila! (By the way, I learned this method of string tying from an earlier post from our resident bike guru. See the link to the YouTube video nearer the end of Fun with Bug Excretions.)

With the project complete, it was time to lay down the ground rules: 1) No aiming at people, 2) no aiming at the house (or cars or anything breakable), and in our case 3) only shoot with pine cones. This latter rule is especially useful for us since the kids can hardly manipulate a small rock, nor do I trust a five-year-old to always remember rules 1 and 2.

We’re not experts at geocaching, so we asked Val Joiner if she would give us an intro to the sport. She obliged, and we are ever so glad she did. Val is a former geologist who now spends her time as a wandering homeschooling mom. She believes travel and exploring nature are vital to kids and adults alike. She chronicles the adventures of her family (aka Camp Granola) at Val in Real Life.

Golf Course Cache

Some of you out there in cyberland may be very familiar with geocaching, but if you’re one of the folks who aren’t in on the game, here’s a quick primer.

Welcome to Geocaching 101…
In a nutshell, geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt played with a GPS. You use coordinates to track down a cache and sign the log. You then post your find to your account online and watch your collection of smiley faces grow.

There are over 1.5 million caches hidden all over the world in an amazing variety of imaginative places, from your local parking lot to the deep wilderness (yes including Antarctica). These “hides” come in all shapes and sizes. From a “nano” the size of a pinto bean on up to creatively disguised large boxes, they can look like just about anything from a bolt to a birdhouse to well…you name it, someone’s probably done it. Sometimes they’re simply camouflaged in duck tape and hidden under branches, other times you’ll discover seriously creative hides like fake tree branches that you can’t tell from real ones.

There are over five million geocachers playing this game/sport. That means the rest of the population are what geocachers call “muggles” or non-players. Therein lies much of the fun because one of the big challenges in geocaching is not drawing attention to yourself by muggles as you’re hunting your quarry. This can prove trickier than it probably sounds. Sure you can find caches deep in the woods without attracting prying eyes but many caches are deftly hidden in urban settings like parking lots where being inconspicuous is no small task. So if you’ve ever noticed someone lifting a lamp post skirt you now know what they’re up to…just turn a blind eye or give them a little wink.

So how does this work?
You can start with a free account at Geocaching.com. That’s where the cache information is and where you’ll log your progress. Each successful find earns you a smiley face where the cache is located. [Note: There’s also a new upstart site called opencaching.com but since I don’t use it I can’t speak to it’s worthiness. Feel free to check it out though. And hopefully some commenters out there will help out and fill in the blank for me.]

Given all of the potential ways, places, and scenarios to hide a cache, each one is rated by its difficulty and terrain by a star system. The rating system is quite handy in helping decide which caches to tackle and when. A park and grab under a lamp skirt at the local store is likely to be a 1 or 1.5 difficulty and a 1 terrain…easy enough for even the little cachers to grab or a quickie on your way home from work. But as the “hiders” up the stakes in terms of how well-camouflaged the cache is and how difficult it is to get to, you’ll see those ratings go higher and higher…which means those caches will take more time, energy, and planning to successfully grab. These “evil” caches can be in some crazy places…cliffs, underwater, up towering trees…you get the idea. Or they can be just so cleverly disguised that their difficulty is 4 or 5 stars but the terrain is only a 1. Like I said, huge variety. But that’s a good thing. It means there’s something for everyone.

And while many caches are one-shot grabs, there are many other kinds of caches as well like multis & puzzle caches (among others). Multis are just what they sound like in that there are multiple stages to the final glorious find. As well, puzzle caches are aptly named. You may have to solve sort sort of puzzle/mind-game to get the correct coordinates or figure out something once you get there but either way, it’s an added challenge that is always welcome at Camp Granola.

What’s in it?
For the smaller caches you’ll find only a log to sign since there isn’t room for anything else. The larger ones will have everything from little toys and trinkets to trackable coins and tokens. The understanding is that if you take something, you leave something of equal or greater value. The trinkets are how I initially lured my little cachers on the hunt but now that they’re older, it’s things like GeoCoins, Travel Bugs, and Pathtags that put a sparkle in their eyes.

Who can play?
Geocaching is available to all ages, shapes, and sizes. You can have a fancy GPS or a simple GPS…or even no GPS and you will have all the adventure and fun every other cacher is having. As I mentioned, given the wide range of difficulty and terrain for caches, this is s sport/hobby that accommodates all ability levels.

Why play?
First, it’s just fun. Each find is like scoring a goal or landing a fish, you get a sense of accomplishment. It’s a great challenge that gets you outdoors and it doesn’t get better than that in my book. It also takes you to locations you wouldn’t have gone otherwise and you end up discovering surprising new places and things to do. Sometimes you even find out a little more about your world and how it works. Much like photography, geocaching helps you develop a keen eye and the ability to set assumptions aside so it’s a great mental workout. Plus, when you’re traveling about, there’s never an excuse to be bored when there’s always a hunt to be had.

A bonus for parents of little cachers is that it’s an invigorating family activity. All of the reasons I love caching for myself, I love doubly so for Fred and George. Hand them the GPS, let them lead the way, and you’ll have some sharp kiddos on your hands. Geocaching demands several skills from them in simultaneously and it’s a treat to watch them work through the hunt. It’s real-world problem solving at its best because they’re having fun. And it isn’t just for homeschoolers…it’s catching on as a tool in mainstream education.

Getting started…
As you can see, there are a lot of facets to this sport. I’ve only scratched the surface. If you’re intrigued by the notion, the best source for getting started is the probably over at Groundspeak’s Geocaching 101 FAQ and/or Geocaching in 2 Minutes at Geocaching.com. You can also check out How Geocaching Works from the folks at How Stuff Works.

The next best step is to go with someone who knows the ropes. If you don’t know an active geocacher, find a local geocaching group. We geocachers are a friendly lot and welcome the chance to show new cachers the ropes. There’s a treasure trove of new friends to be had out there.

My personal PSA…
I wouldn’t be the Queen of Camp Granola if I didn’t urge outdoor sensitivity when caching. Be sure to Tread Lightly when caching in the wilderness. I would add that taking care in urban environments is crucial as well. Many a shrub, fence, sprinkler head, etc. have been destroyed by overzealous hunters which isn’t fair to property owners and undermines our group as a whole. Let’s keep a good name for ourselves so people love having us around.

Cache on friends!

“Up, up, and away[on] my beautiful, my beautiful…” The 5th Dimension

Le Pre de Grace et de Pommes de terre suggested I write a little bit for you about bicycle touring. This is sort of a loaded question. Not because I’m so very knowledgeable from experience, but more because I’m long-winded and full of trivia. I began riding road bikes in 1987 while working in a Schwinn shop (back when that used to mean something other than a Target), and though I’ve become far more of a mountain biker than a road cyclist, I have kept up with touring over the years, as it simply speaks to me more than racing does.

Bicycle touring was really biggest in the 1970s. There was something called BikeCentennial in 1976, and for some reason (that I’m sure someone out there can tell us) it lit a philosophical fire under America (rightfully so) for touring the country by bike. If you’re old enough, you might remember a time when most road bikes were covered with bags. It should be memorable, because you’re starting to see all those bags around againin this case, more for utility cycling, but nevertheless, it’s the first time bikes have been seen in a guise other than racing for many years.

See, I told you this would be long-winded. Anyway, what does this have to do with YOU, I hear you asking. Well, you will know if you are interested. I’m not going to try to talk you into anything. But I’m here to be a resource if this is something you can see yourself or your family trying.

The first place you should start is a quick overnight. There are two excellent (in my opinion) sources of info on how to do this. The time-honored veterans of these short camping trips are Rivendell Bicycle Works. For years they have championed what they call the ‘Sub- 24 Hour Overnight’ or S24O. Check out info from them HERE. Another new and fantastic source of information comes from a contest that the Welsh clothing company Howies put on involving people going on what they call MicroAdventures and documenting it. Check out these videos HERE. Between these two, you should be well aware of how to get started with this bike touring thing.

But before you read that, let me tell you what you already know, but don’t know you know, y’know? (Ugh). You’ll need a bike (either road or mountain bike, really) and either a backpack (a rather large one) or a rack on the bike. Or a rack and a smaller backpack. You need to either plan on sleeping outside, renting a hotel room, or carrying a tent. You’ll need food. Again, you can credit card tour and this is perfectly valid, but it’s not the cheapest way to go. Perhaps better to carry food and either fire starting material (be VERY careful with fire) or a campstove.

This is a good time to say that one of the worst things you could do is get a special touring bike, outfit it with all the bags, buy all the camping things, before ever sleeping outside on a bike tour. Remember, the experience here is worth far more than having all the “right” equipment. After you’re experienced, you can tour the whole country with all the gear, but first, get started doing it. the Howies videos are good at getting this point across.

Now, if you want to just get an idea of what the larger kind of touring is about, give THIS a look. And bikes like thisor this. Andand and… You see how easily you can be lured into gear worship. But this is supposed to be about re-experiencing nature. And for most of the readers of this site, modeling for your children what it means to experience nature. So what does it mean? A reason to use your cool gear? Or is the gear just a tool? I knew you thought so. (Wish I could practice what I preach- well, I can, but only through poverty!)

Ernest Hemingway has a famous quote which I won’t bother to Google, because it’s so easy for you to do. In which he said that riding a bicycle helps you to appreciate the landscape in a way you never could in a car. A hill is very physical and real to you. Flat ground isn’t always as flat as it looks, as you will know if you have to keep pedaling, instead of coasting. A forest has a smell and a feeling to the air within. Know what I mean? You will!

Certainly, ask any questions you’d like in the comments or e-mail me at the contact info on the home page.

Buick Rendezvous at a rest stop, Michigan

We have a Thanksgiving tradition. Every year for the past three or four years, we have loaded up the car and driven four hours north to a cabin on the water. There we meet with grandparents and uncles and aunts, and a small brood of cousins. It’s something we really look forward to.

Not everyone’s driving four hours for Thanksgiving. Some are driving more. (For Christmas we’re looking at a 22-hour trip west to visit the other side of the family.) A four-hour drive with a two- and five-year-old is a challenge. Like most families, we plan stops along the way. Like most families, these stops are typically for gas and fast food. That might mean two stops for our Turkey Day trek, but when we visit the in-laws in Colorado, the gas station / Taco Bell routine quickly becomes a soul crushing drag.

That’s where highway rest stops are a life saver. From what we’ve observed, not many people really take advantage of what rest stops have to offer. The restrooms seem to be the biggest draw. After that folks visit the vending machines and then may check out the map with the large “You Are Here” arrow. A dedicated few will head over to the dog run to walk Fido. But what about the picnic tables, the grills, the nature hike out back?

Last summer we were coming back from a long weekend on Lake Michigan. The kids were getting grouchy, and I just wanted to stop. No one needed the bathroom, and we had just ate lunch an hour before, but I saw the sign REST STOP and veered onto the ramp. For the next 45 minutes, we played. First it was a game of tag. Then we tried to count all the trees that created sort of an unintentional ring. (There were 23.) Then there was some running of the dog and general horsing around. It was an exhilarating stop. We returned to the car with restored energy and cheerier moods. Nature does that. The Speedway parking lot does not.

This summer it was here in Michigan. Last year we stopped on I-80 in Nebraska and, walking around the rest stop, got a feel for the great expanse of the prairie. That day the wind blew from the south with a push as steady and unrelenting as the wind that sometimes comes off the Great Lakes. Heck, it’s probably the same wind. That’s another thing rest stops give usa chance to touch the earth, feel the temperature, and taste the air.

It’s a small thing, and maybe not worth a whole little soapbox speech, but families would do well to get out the car a little more often on trips. It’s good for the kids and good for the soul.