Eli is my 5-year-old grandson. He is one of the best things about living life, along with my two grown daughters – the oldest a medical assistant and Eli’s mom and the youngest a junior in college.
I get to spend every Tuesday afternoon and evening with Eli. He is a great kid – like all grandkids are, I know. He is very intuitive and wise and pretty quick with a joke or a poignant line, too.
Last week it was warm and sunny when I picked Eli up at pre-school, so we got his bike and hopped on the Manhan Rail Trail and headed to the Family Dollar store for some whiffle balls and a basketball.
We got a good rubber ball to use with the basketball hoop as well as a Nerf sword, because we only have one sword at my house and that makes it hard to have a fair fight.
It was too nice to head home so we headed further down the bike path toward Eastworks, and when Eli got tired of riding, directly behind Eastworks, we played games, like sword ball, using the sword as a bat to hit the big ball. We are a resourceful team.
Then I noticed a path down to Lower Mill Pond, and we stowed the toys in the dollar store bag and headed down to the water, me holding brambles back so Eli could pass through unscathed. We were talking dramatic talk about adventures and blazing trails.
I imagined our little trek would offer Eli the kind of experience I used to have exploring Ephram’s Cove, near to my parents’ summer home on Lake Winnisquam. I wanted to walk along the stretch of shore we could see from the bike path and look for signs of life.
What we saw instead was a whole lot of trash – empty water bottles, soda bottles, take-out containers and even a pack of diaper wipes. They were floating and lying in the muck.
“Ew,” I said to him. “Gross. Let’s go that way.” I pointed to a shore around the bend, thinking it must be cleaner over there, but in fact, it was worse. There was an abandoned makeshift campsite there, including a filthy sleeping bag, tarp and backpack.
“Don’t step on anything,” I said.
At the other shoreline, Eli walked right up to the water’s edge. “Don’t step in the water,” I said. Too late. He is 5, after all. His size 11 boots were submerged. Looking down, I saw a floating hypodermic needle.
“OK Eli,” I said. “We’re out of here.”
But before we left, there was one opportunity for a nature moment. We saw a tree gnawed narrow at the base and ready to topple.
“What do you suppose did that Eli?” I asked.
“Beavers!” he hollered.
I asked him to look for the beavers’ house, and he spotted the dam nearby. Then, we beat it out of there.
We walked around to the front of Eastworks, washed our hands in the bathroom and then gobbled down a couple of burgers and fries. Eli stuck a piece of dried ketchup over his eyebrow; it looked just like a scab, and he couldn’t wait to feign injury to his mother.
However yucky our little woods foray was, it did provide a good teaching opportunity. We talked a lot about littering and the “pack it in pack it out mantra.” I got the chance to say, “It’s really gross to leave your trash in the woods. You need to always remember to carry it until you get to a trash can.”
“Ya,” Eli said. “Because nature is not a trash can, Grammy.”