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Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. (William Wordsworth)

English majors are always looking for poetry in the everyday, and an idyllic walk in the woods is bound to provide some romantic fodder for their next poem.

Our family walk began promisingly enough—crisp and clear, the morning seemed perfect for a hike. The 6 of us set out, along with an eager Gracie, who bounded ahead in search of interesting smells.

Benjamin navigated for us, using his unerring sense of direction, which generally opts for the shortest route, even if that route is straight through a grove of sticker bushes. Long after the thorns had shredded my ill-chosen yoga pants, we reached our goal, a wide creek that winds around our neighborhood. A Canada goose had been nestling in a little crook of the riverbank and, startled, she flew off, loudly honking her displeasure. 

I mentally began crafting a poem about the majestic goose, but then Gracie caught sight of the water. She devoted the next half hour to wading in and out of it, ensuring that her legs and belly accumulated as much silt as possible from the muddy bank. I abandoned my goose poem in favor of babysitting the dog to make sure she didn’t get swept off into the current. 

The boys lost no time in beginning a rock-skipping contest (hmmm…skipping rocks, that’s pretty poetic), which led to a who-can-make-the-biggest-splash-contest, which led to who-can-smash-a-rock-to-smithereens, which led to pummel-the-winner-into-howling-submission. 

Hoping to distract them from each other, we parents set off along the riverbank at a brisk pace. (There’s no such thing as a leisurely pace with a bunch of rowdy kids and a curious dog.) The deer trail became increasingly brambly and slowed our progress, except for Gigi, who scampers like a rabbit over all terrain, and Ken, whose legs are about a foot longer than mine, and the boys, who all want to outdo each other. I was left to scramble along behind them, the “cow’s tail,” as my mom so eloquently calls it. 

We came to a tangle of fallen logs, and the rest of the family plowed through, undeterred. I gamely followed, but suddenly my foot caught on a vine, and then on a log, and then another log, and then it was all over in seconds. I sprawled across the logs and fell flat on my face. I lay there for a few seconds, both shins and a knee throbbing in pain, while the kids huddled over me. 

Benjamin, the analytical one, began sizing up the situation immediately. “Are you ok?” he asked matter-of-factly.

“I’m fine,” I hissed through clenched teeth, annoyed with myself for being annoyed by his question. “I just need a minute.” 

When the pain had decreased to an incessant thrum, we resumed our walk. The family deferred to my laborious, limping pace, which gave me plenty of time to reflect on my age and their youth and the unevenness of the terrain.

Gracie beat us all home, bounding up the porch steps with her mud-caked paws, which were let into the house by a “helpful” child, while the teens disappeared to their rooms—becoming mysteriously unavailable for the bath Gracie so sorely needed.

As I lay on the sofa nursing my scratches and bruises and striving vainly to wring an ounce of romanticism from the morning, it dawned on me that William Wordsworth (that duplicitous pen-pusher) had withheld a key truth about his treks through the English countryside: the best time to write a poem is six months later, in the dead of winter, when the bruises are gone and the hike has faded to a majestic goose and a rock skipping blithely across the water.