To many, the phrase ‘bike trail’ conjures up a vision of muscle-thighed men in brightly colored spandex, scattering women, children, and small animals as they whoosh by in packs of twenty. I am frequently referred to as the ‘bike trail guy’ when I’m out stumping for money or looking for land for a new trail. Actually, what we are building is so much more than bike trails.
My favorite trail memory does not involve a bike at all. It is of a very special nature hike with my grandson Conner when he was three years old.
It was one of those mid-week birthdays for me. When I looked at the calendar and realized my birthday was going to fall on a Wednesday, I decided I would take the day off and spend it doing something fun and different. All my friends were working (a different economy for sure), and I took advantage of having a preschool-aged grandson that would enjoy a little ‘Gopa’ time. (He named me when he was sixteen months old so that’s who I am now.)
After hearing his mother warn him a few days earlier about picking up an earthworm because it was dirty, I decided it was time to acquaint Conner with the bug world. Obviously Bug 101 wasn’t a course he was going to experience at home.
I decided Conner and I would spend my birthday at Arabia Mountain, walking the trail and climbing on the rocks in search of bugs. We arrived mid-morning after a night of rain. It was made-to-order conditions since all the creepy-crawlers would be out searching for loved-ones that had been washed away and restoring their homes from the hood.
The sky was crystal clear as we began our walk along the trail. Our first stop was a rotting pine stump a few feet from the trail. I took a chance at amazing my boy by ripping the bark off the side of the stump to expose the decaying wood below. Sure enough, bugs went in everywhere: Shiny brown beetles, little gray rolly-pollys, ants, and termites rushed to find cover as Conner stared in amazement. I reached out to the least modest beetle and offered it a finger. It declined my invitation and quickly joined the crowd headed for the exits.
Conner followed my lead by poking at several beetles and other bugs with his tiny index finger. Mama would surely have screamed and snatched him from the jaws of death. I on the other hand encouraged him as one of the beetles crawled onto his finger, up his shirt sleeve and rested on his shoulder. There was no fear expressed by Conner or the beetle. Bug 101 was in full session!
We moved on to the rock where we encountered a small pool of water surrounded by brilliantly colored moss and lichen. In the water, we discovered tadpoles at various stages of development, water skippers skipping about and a couple of very large dragon flies perched on a long strand of exotic grass. It was a critter-lovers utopia. We chose to observe rather than engage; another lesson for my buddy, since many bugs are either rare and delicate or prepared to make you pay if disturbed. It was almost as much fun to be a quiet observer. The critters seemed to be more active and perform more ‘tricks’ without our interference.
We finished our day at the pond behind the Arabia Nature Center where critters are ‘cultivated’ by the tenders of the Center. There we saw frogs, salamanders, butterflies and a quarter-size June bug. Soon we were back on the trail headed to the car.
I realized on the way home, the trail at Arabia Mountain is more about city folks experiencing nature than anything to do with cycling. Thousands of people use the trail to access the extraordinary environment within the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area, not because they need a place to bike, but because they need a dose of nature. More than a bike trail indeed!