I must have been about Sam’s age when Mum and Dad would take my little brother and I for walks in the woods beyond the grassy meadow and then through the wooden gate near our house. Back then I was nervous of the wildlife who made their home amongst the trees. When I wasn’t antagonising Simon I would be clutching onto Mummy and brandishing a sword stick with the other hand, as I wasn’t entirely certain that the snap of twigs, crackle of leaves and fleeting shadows in the night gloom of the deep dark woods at the heart of the forest weren’t from the padding footsteps of a family of hungry bears, or wolves, watching us as we made our way along the path.
Of course, this was in Wales and since the Middle Ages there have been no bears, or wolves, in Wales.
The only hairy beast to be afraid of in the Welsh woods was the Great Bearded Daddy. This strange creature would delight in darting stealthily from dark tree to tree, circling his family while making the odd strangled animal noise, and preparing to leap out from undergrowth when least expected. Occasionally this ferocious biped would also get distracted and make armies of fat wood ants angry by stirring up their hills with a big stick.
Now I’m taking my two children for walks in the woods and I am still afraid of bears, but with good reason. The hungry bears making their home amongst the trees are very real here in Washington, and they are accompanied by equally ravenous mountain lions. I’ve been a little nervous about taking my treasures for a walk in the mountains here but it was time to venture away from the city parks and brave a stroll in the leafy Issaquah Alps.
Signs at Cougar Mountain’s Red Town Trailhead reminding of native predators kept my concern to the forefront and although visions of cougars carrying off small, inquisitive, wayward children right in front of me, dominated my thoughts, I probably needn’t have worried. We chose to tackle the Wildside Trail and as we set forth along the trail it was soon clear that we wouldn’t be sneaking up and surprising any unsuspecting wild animals. This trail was well travelled and with Sam and Bea’s chatter going non-stop, anyone in our vicinity expecting a quiet walk in the woods would have been sorely disappointed. Bea’s happy shrieks alone probably had bears cowering and covering their ears in their dens.
Bea was in the mood to hop rocks. Every sizable stone jutting out of the dirt along the way had to be leapt over with great aplomb. Her little fingers tightly gripping mine we followed behind Daddy, Sam, and Quince, seeking out obstacles to fearlessly bound over. Thick weathered roots crossing our path got squeals of delight and needed extra concentration. Sometimes I would miss a stone and she would insistently drag me back down the track to add it her jump count. “Fun Mummy! This is Fun!” she announced with a beam as we walked. We made slow progress, but my three year old was happy indeed.
Amongst the decaying leaves, fallen then plastered to the trail by cold rain, Bea would spy treasures to be picked up and caressed. Many grey, white and patchy pebbles were collected and obstinately carried on our travel. Should one such stone fall from overloaded toddler hands back onto the cluttered forest floor, the walk would cease until the little rock pet was relocated, or at least one quite like it. Growing weary, Bea pushed her trove into my gloveless fingers and insisted her collection remain intact, but that she could carry them no more. There was a break in the Seattle rain, but the air was still damp and these stones were quite shiny wet and chilled. They numbed my hands as if ice themselves, but putting them snug in a pocket was not allowed and all objects had to remain visible for muster by a diligent Beatrice at all times. Inbetween jumping more stones she would call for an inspection and pick a stone or two to carefully hold and gloat over, before handing them back to her cargo ship.