My children love to be outside. My son learned to walk on the rocky, uneven hills of our woods, and my daughter scampers over rocks and boulders as easily as she can hop into bed. They much prefer to be outdoors than indoors, and on cold and rainy days, they stare longingly out the windows until I relent and release them back into the wild.
I mentally prepare myself for yet another load of muddy clothes as I stand in the chill and watch them make a beeline for the patch of dirt situated alongside the driveway. With purpose, and with joy, they immediately grab shovels and buckets and start to dig in the dirt.
They aren’t just children anymore. They are paleontologists. Archeologists. Geologists. They are determined to discover the secrets of the earth.
Site 1- Active: Currently, the spot alongside the driveway is their favorite digging spot. Where I see dirt, they see a wealth of possibilities. Dinosaur fossils and gems are their current favorite treasures to seek, but they occasionally look for old bones, as well.
They never find any, of course, but this does not deter them. With plastic shovels, they slowly fill up buckets with dirt and then empty them over the hill.
My son, wearing his new safari vest equipped with a lantern and excavating tools, suddenly stops to investigate something. With wild shouts of excitement, they run to an old tree stump and grab a set of hammers. They have unearthed a rock and will spend the next twenty minutes trying to smash it open.
The items deemed necessary for their research are mostly pilfered from my husband’s work bench: hammers, screwdrivers, fishing nets, a small rake, goggles, a watering can, shovels, and paintbrushes. These items can usually be found strewn amongst fall’s forgotten leaves or hanging on a nearby tree branch next to the driveway. This view greets all who visit.
Site 2- Closed: This site initiated the digging frenzy this summer. Along a row of boulders situated on the edge of our yard, my son unearthed a “dinosaur bone.” He spent weeks slowly digging, scraping, and brushing off dirt. I have never seen him so patiently work on anything.
Before it was even out of the ground, my husband easily identified it as a deer antler, but my son insisted it was a dinosaur fossil until it was completely unearthed. Although a bit disappointed that it was not a T-Rex tooth or a Giganotosaurus femur, he promptly brought it inside to put with all of his other “important stuff.”
Along with deer antler, my children make varied attempts at bringing the outside inside. On my coffee table, I find a piece of coal my son discovered along an abandoned railroad track during last month’s bike ride. On my daughter’s floor, a turkey feather is displayed in a teapot at Ariel and Rapunzel’s tea party.
I tolerate most, but once the dirty deer antler came into the house, and I found it on my son’s bed, enough was enough.
THE NATURE SHELF
I persuaded my husband, who doesn’t mind antlers in the house but likes to keep his wife happy, to build the kids a “nature shelf” outside on the deck. Here my children carefully place their treasures: a fossil found in a stream at their Pappy’s, a shiny rock from a recent bike ride, and a large, dead cicada they suspiciously watched for a week before they were brave enough to scoop it up and place it on the shelf.
When winter arrived, my son and daughter carefully packed these items into a plastic tub until spring; however, they continue to dig, seeking new treasures for a new year. They are undeterred by the partially frozen ground and bitter January winds.
Although these excavations require multiple loads of laundry, create inevitable muddy tracks through my house, and are destroying my yard, I fully encourage them.
I know that with each shovel of dirt, with each swing of the hammer, my children are not just using their imagination, but they are growing more and more curious about the world around them. They are asking more and more questions and wanting more and more answers.
I hope they always want to dig deep to find answers, to question what they find, and to rejoice in the beauty of nature.