Our first hike happened on the first weekend-long outing post-lockdown. We stayed close to home and explored forests and hills. We chose a beautifully transformed 18th century farmhouse in the Ardennes’ countryside, conveniently located at an hour and a half drive away only.
It was the first drive in many months and we were weary of how little gosling would handle it. He gets bored and anxious to move around freely pretty fast. But, it was easier than ever before. He looked calmly outside the window for a good part of the first hour, fascinated by the cars driving by and by the windmills. He kept saying “bebe wants to see windmills” and we all kept our eyes open for them. Fortunately, there were quite a number of them, here and there. We stopped, as we usually do, after an hour or so, for a snack, to allow him to stretch his legs and get some fresh air and tzitzi, before going through the last bit of our journey. Back in the car, he got bored and restless fairly quickly, but we managed to keep him entertained by playing “Bebe, bebe, what do you see?” (simulating Eric Carle’s “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?”). By that time we had left the highway and were going on bendy country roads, crossing forests and charming little villages. The three of us took turns asking each other and indicating what we saw outside the window: “ I see the sun looking at me”, “I see a signpost looking at me”, “I see leaves looking at me”, “I see cows looking at me”. Oftentimes, little gosling repeated whatever we had said just before, but on occasion he would come up with his own answers. This kept us busy for the remaining half hour of the ride, until we reached our destination.
We took a 12 km long hike through the forest, among hilly pastures and on shady trails. What a world of discovery for little gosling! He had been looking forward to it, impatient to “gather leaves and flowers, press them and then draw them”. He really enjoyed walking, observing, hearing and touching. We had a picnic under a tree, looking at the cows ruminating in the pasture across the path. There wasn’t a lot of gathering involved, but we did see a lot of different pink and purple and yellow flowers, all of which my intelligent plant id app said were invasive plants – awwww!!!! And they looked truly beautiful!!! We saw fox-gloves for the first time (like the ones in “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck”); they were everywhere and I find them very pretty. I just now realised they only grow in this part of Europe. We saw ferns of different sizes all over the place and tree stumps covered in moss. Little gosling wanted to touch them; he sat down on one and it was sooo soft and comfy, like one of his blankies :))). He was fascinated by broken trees and logs, and of course, sticks all over. He keeps remembering and talking about this one big tree that had fallen blocking the path that we had to walk around. He learned to be careful with the thorny bushes alongside the path and to watch out for the biting nettles.
He enjoyed listening to the various chirping and singing birds, up in the very tall trees. We saw butterflies fluttering and traced them with our gaze.. It was truly an entertaining outing. It was also a great occasion to watch the little bugs in their own environment. We spent a good deal of time observing ladybirds with different numbers of black dots on their backs and different shades of red, going up the grass stalks or pebbles on the dusty road. Little gosling kept wanting to step onto them and we kept how hurtful that would be and how important life was. We employed our magnifying glass for the first time, with little gosling enjoying more saying its name (something like “fly glass”) than actually looking through it. He was more often looking under it or around it :))). There were plenty of black beetles on the road and we, of course, had to stop and watch them scuttling every time. We even saw a hurt bee (or maybe a wasp?!) down in the road, which could not fly anymore.
For us, it was a useful experiment for future outings with our hiking baby carrier. Little gosling didn’t manage to sleep more than half hour in it, I assume because he could not find a comfy position for his head. And daddy found it was practical for carrying him for short spans of time, but it was not sustainable for long stretches. Good thing little gosling really enjoyed hiking on his own feet.
Hiking really gave little gosling an appetite. I don’t think I had ever seen him so keen and impatient for food. He would not take his eyes off the nice lady running to the kitchen, announcing “bebe wants food” and “the nice lady brings food for bebe, mommy and daddy”. He thoroughly enjoyed the delicious dinners at the farmhouse and the generous breakfasts. He particularly loved the bread and butter, the croissants (such a delicious accent he has saying the word), which he tasted for the first time, and the sound of the “oeuf a la coque”.
What I will remember most vividly will be the most marvelous sleep we had the two nights at the farmhouse. Except for two or three nights when he was still a baby, that was the first time he slept through the night, from 21.00 to 6.00 approximately. Ohh, those were such two delightful two night sleeps!
As always, I brought a sackful of books along to keep him entertained at the breakfast/dinner table, whilst the food arrived. I intentionally chose nature-themed books and he loved them. We must have read Suzanne Barton’s “The Dawn Chorus” about the self-discovery journey of a little nightingale tens of times during the two days we were there. “Mad about minibeasts” by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz was also a big hit, after all the bug observing we had done. He quickly found all little animals and plants in “Look and say what you see in the countryside” and the colour-themed search and find in “Cache-cache couleurs”.
We finished off our weekend trip with a visit to Parc Chlorophylle, a beautifully laid out, short nature trail in the forest, all complete with enormous stick and logs’ sculptures of owls and beetles fighting (this is what little gosling most remembers of the day), huge outdoor playgrounds, a vast suspended forest trail, slides and all kinds of sporty activities and nature information billboards. A thoroughly entertaining three hours to be repeated when little gosling is older and can take advantage of more activities!