a day in the woods, with a three-year-old

This story begins at the place where I work. We recently merged with another company and among the many upheavals was a change to our vacation policy. Now, instead of accumulating vacation time based on the number of years you’ve worked there, you are given no specific time off and simply ask for what you want. Your manager then approves or disapproves (likely based on the number of years you’ve worked there). Never mind that this has apparently been shown at other companies to cause employees to take fewer vacation days than in the past. But the most immediate consequence of the new policy is that we can no longer carry over any unused vacation days into the new year. We have to use ’em or lose ’em. And so I did, taking Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week off.

Since I had a free day in the middle of the week, I decided to try getting something done at my cabin that I’d been wanting to do for several months (since I had finished the retaining wall near the fire ring area). I wanted to get a new load of gravel to spread around there, to level the ground a bit and perhaps get ahead of the grasses and other green things asserting themselves in the currently sparse gravel. To do this, I understood, I needed to be present to accept the delivery from the nearby quarry, and since my little cabin is very remote, I needed to lead the delivery truck to it as well. And this had to be done during the work week when the quarry was open. So I had called the quarry the week before and talked it through. The volume of gravel I thought I needed was actually too small for them to deliver, being only five tons! So arrangements had to be made with a local, independent hauler who could meet me at the quarry and then follow me in to my remote cabin. The plans were laid and I looked forward to a solo day in my woods. Even the weather looked cooperative for mid-December in the Ozarks.

But as you know from recent posts on this humble blog, I have family in town, including my three-year-old grandson, Kenneth. And somehow it became part of my plan that Kenneth and his dad would join me on my trip to Roundrock. This was fine. Kenneth, likely for lack of discernment, seems to like me and wants to do activities with me. A trip to my little cabin would be a great adventure for him.

And so the plan was executed. I picked up Kenneth and his dad, Travis, early that morning, earlier than necessary to be at the quarry at 9:00 as I’d arranged, but intended according to Travis to allow Kenneth to sleep most of the two-hours of travel time to get to the woods. No one had told Kenneth that, however, and he was awake and chattering the whole drive down, which was endearing to my black and shriveled heart.

We arrived at the cabin a hour before we needed to be at the quarry, so we knocked around a little, Kenneth leading us on a hike. Kenneth is a New York city boy. He is, apparently, used to pavement under his feet and did not much like the uneven surface of the forest floor, with rocks hidden by the generous fall of leaves. So his hike soon took us to the road leading to the cabin. We walked up the hill a ways, Travis and I comparing the lack of signals on our phones, until Kenneth said he was too tired to go on. That was fine because it was nearing the time for us to depart for the quarry. So Travis carried Kenneth back to the cabin; we got ourselves organized, and then hopped in the truck and drove to the quarry.

I had hoped that we could go into the part of the quarry where the rock is dynamited from the hillside to show Kenneth, but the man there told us we could not (as I fully expected), though we could drive around the piles of gravel and see some of the (idle) big machines. The man there also wanted me to select the kind of gravel I wanted, cleaner or with fines (powdered rock and dirt). Since my goal was partly to prevent grasses from growing around my fire ring, I didn’t want the fines. So we drove around the quarry until we came to the pile of gravel I wanted. I pocketed a handful to show the man and then returned to the “office” to wait for local hauler. And wait we did. Fortunately, I had some donut holes to keep Kenneth occupied. We had told him that it was too dangerous for him to be outside of my little truck, but he’s a clever boy and pointed out that he could stand in the bed of my truck and watch the activity of the quarry from there. (He’s only three years old!) So we did that. Later he had to push all of the buttons on my dashboard because he was flying us through space, pausing occasionally for a bite of donut hole. And finally, the local hauler arrived. His truck was weighed empty, then he drove to the pile of gravel I had selected, it was loaded and then the truck was weighed again. Some money exchanged hands and off we went.

My cabin is about five miles from the quarry, and since rock is cheap compared to its delivery cost, this is fortunate. When we finally got to the cabin — the man driving the big truck had crept along at places, which I guess is a consequence of hauling five tons of gravel on steep and twisting Ozark roads — the driver marveled at how remote the place was. (This is a common statement made by visitors.) I showed him where I wanted the pile, and he deftly turned his truck around and backed it into place. Once that was done, we allowed Kenneth to get out of my truck so he could watch the dumping operation. It was over in about thirty seconds, five tons being, it seems, a paltry amount of rock.

Kenneth’s first response to seeing the pile of gravel was the climb to the top of it. And then slide down it. And then climb it again. And so forth. Which was perfect in my mind. I wanted him to have a fun time in my woods in whatever way made sense to him. We emptied his shoes a number of times and helped him up and down as needed.

Just for show, I wanted to spread a little of the gravel behind the retaining wall. Kenneth was not too interested in this, but Travis was. I had raked away the accumulated leaves at the wall and wrestled the wheel barrow out of the cabin. Travis quickly filled it and pushed it to the cleared area, dumping the first load of gravel into place. Kenneth watched, “helping” with his little hand shovel to load the gravel but soon just “spreading” the gravel near the pile until that bored him and he returned to summiting the pile and generally getting in his dad’s way. Travis has a deluxe camera, and he took some time to set it up on the roof of my truck. It turns out he had made something like a video of his work with the gravel (a photo taken every ten seconds), and he got to work, moving nearly a third of the new pile of gravel behind the retaining wall. (The video wasn’t available at press time, but if I can arrange it, I’ll post it here.) As I said, I just wanted to shift some of the gravel as show for Kenneth, but Travis is a doer and he kept working until we began to discuss pain relievers.

Since Travis and Kenneth had evening plans with his family, and since we had some other plans at the cabin, we stopped the gravel work. Kenneth, of course, had to stomp on the piles of gravel behind the retaining wall to level them for us. Such a fine boy!

Since there had been rain in the forest recently — it’s been a dry December — I wanted to have a small fire in the ring for Kenneth to marvel at. And Travis kept reminding Kenneth that a good woodsman — hint, wink — could light a fire with only one match. (He was throwing down a challenge to me, one I was determined to meet!) So Kenneth and I collected the wood for our small fire. Mostly I collected, but he was interested.

I built the fire as I normally would though I’ll confess that I put in more tinder than I might have typically since I didn’t want to fail in front of my son-in-law and grandson. Kenneth stayed near, “helping” Grandpa with the sticks and watching closely. When it came time for me to light the fire with one match, Travis got in close too, with his camera in hand.

Needless to say, I got it roaring with only one match and Kenneth began learning about fire safety as well as how smoke can get in your eyes. He wanted to burn leaves but we told him they could fly out of the fire and burn down the forest. I think that concept was too grand for him to understand though.

Kenneth then wanted the chairs to be arranged around the fire so we could sit before it and stay warm. (I don’t know where he picks these things up.) He also assigned our seats and then later re-assigned them. He could certainly feel the heat but there was too much smoke for his little eyes.

I had deliberately used dried out, partly rotten wood for the fuel so that it would burn quickly because I didn’t want to be stuck at the cabin waiting for too many coals to wink out. (As it was, I eventually quenched the fire with two gallon jugs of water, explaining it all to Kenneth as I did so. He also “helped” me stir the ashes with the shovel.)

Time was passing, and we had a two-hour drive home. Kenneth would then need a bath (to remove the evidence of the Oreos and chocolate Kisses) to prepare for his evening hay ride with his other grandparents.

But he did say he wanted to return to Grandpa’s cabin, bringing his brother, Everett, next time. Everett is five months old, and he’s a twin to his sister Evie. But Kenneth insisted Evie could not join us. It was only for boys!


Explore posts in the same categories: Roundrock

4 Comments on “a day in the woods, with a three-year-old”

  1. An excellent write up of a fine adventure!

  2. That warms my cold shriveled heart.

  3. markparis Says:

    I think I know a little boy who’s going to remember an adventure.

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