School is now in session. But you don’t always have to be in school just to learn something new.
It’s that time of year when the big yellow buses travel down our road stopping every few houses to pick up school students. New backpacks, lunchboxes, shoes, clothes, and other school necessities have been purchased.
The school bell is ringing, and our oldest grandchild is growing up before our eyes as she is launched into a new year of learning.
The end of a lazy, hazy summer arrived before we could believe it, and we wanted to enjoy one last hurrah before her first day of school.
So, one day while her mama worked, Nana and Papa took Little One on a day trip that promised not only to be full of outdoor fun but also would allow some exploring and learning to boot.
Little One helped Nana pack a picnic basket with our lunch, sunscreen, tick repellant, and a thermos of ice water and off we set on an adventure into the woods. Our destination was a spot for which I have fond memories from my own childhood.
We traveled to Cook Forest State Park, an 8,500-acre area along the Clarion River in northwestern Pennsylvania. Sometimes thought to be a gateway to the Allegheny National Forest, Cook Forest is well known for its thickets of old growth white pine and hemlock trees.
It’s a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking, and tubing down the river as well as offering cabins for vacation stays, camping areas, picnic spots, and many wooded hiking trails.
We first stopped at an old, historic fire tower that I remember climbing as a teenager. Papa and Little One braved the 80-foot climb to the top while Nana snapped photos of their ascent. From its pinnacle, the scenic view from the tower is panoramic.
After being cooped up in the car, Little One thoroughly enjoyed the short hike through the woods to and from the fire tower and climbing over gigantic rocks. Being active was a plus, but what she didn’t realize was that she was also learning something new.
We stopped along the way to inspect fungi growing on trees, toadstools, moss, and giant gnarly tree roots. Papa helped her count the rings on a tree stump to determine how old the tree must have been.
At lunchtime, we found a quiet picnic spot beside a creek which provided even more adventure and education. While eating, Little One noticed two kinds of butterflies on a nearby tree and enjoyed watching them.
After eating, we explored a short trail that took us over the creek via two wooden bridges. But the best part was when she examined critters and rocks in the creek.
Tadpoles were a delight to watch. Wading up and down the cold-water creek was even more so and giggles of glee abounded.
From there, we drove along the river where we watched a few folks paddling kayaks and those tubing along on floats. We even found a spot to wade in the shallow water and toss stones to determine the largest splashes and kerplops made.
A quick shower of rain didn’t dampen our fun either. As the day wound down and it was time to head back home, how did we end our excursion? By eating delicious scoops of ice cream, of course, from the Cooksburg Café.
Little One devoured her strawberry ice cream cone happily discovering chunks of real strawberries in it. Papa indulged in white chocolate raspberry trifle and Nana satisfied her cravings with a chocolate peanut butter cone that included the largest pieces of frozen peanut butter I’ve ever eaten in my life.
It was a great way to end a summer’s day, to enjoy an outing before school resumed, and learn a few of nature’s lessons.
Our Little One may be growing up with no way to stop time but we hope she never halts her desire to learn new things in this life. And her Nana and Papa will provide those opportunities as long as we are able.
“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo