I have been busy for the past month or so on what you might call a “Side Project”. This is really just my way of saying that I’m working on something that I’m not ready to announce to the world. No, it is not a baby. My father wrote this post for me about one of our most treasured family traditions. As always, I captioned the photos.
According to Legend our annual trips to Pony Creek Campground in Iowa began as a quest to gather leaves in the fall to cover our strawberry plants for the winter. With all the ash, maple, cottonwood and other leaves that pile up in our backyard each fall, it’s hard to remember a time when we only had one small maple and a few small fruit trees in our yard. But such was the case 18 years ago, and with most of the leaves blowing away from our fenceless yard there were few left to cover our plants. So, after raiding the neighbors’ yards (with their enthusiastic permission) our first year, it occurred to us that we could enjoy a nice little hike in the woods and also fill a few bags with leaves from a quaint little campground in Iowa on the same afternoon. And so a family tradition was born.
Merry-Go-Round Catch, I believe
Each year in October we would drive across the Missouri river to Pony Creek in our quest for leaves. Our first stop was the north playground where we filled several orange “pumpkin” bags before swinging and playing on the merry-go-round. From the playground we hiked up the north trail that led to an orchard in the northwest corner of the park. On one of our early trips someone suggested we play hide-n-seek in the orchard and this became a part our tradition. A large oak tree near the corner of the orchard always served as the base.
Many a time did we have distance competitions on these
From the orchard we sometimes hiked around on the south trail or tried to catch frogs and pollywogs in the pond at the center of the park. We usually ended up at the south playground and its big tilted merry-go-round before heading back to the car. For several years we stopped at Godfathers Pizza on the way home.
As the years went by the strawberry patch gave way to a raspberry patch but the need for a covering of leaves remained the same. However, the trees we planted in the backyard grew tall and heavy laden with leaves. Also, the neighbors to the east put up a fence and eventually the need for leaves from outside our yard ended. Nevertheless, we continued our annual trek to Pony Creek sans the orange bags.
Ben was always afraid the canoe would tip
One year we canoed on the lake across the road from the park. Another year we picked up Andrew after a band competition and spent the night in the campground. When Kathy’s parent moved to Nebraska we started bringing them along. Although they hiked the trails with us, they would sit under the oak tree while we played hide-n-seek.
In 2007, for the first and only time, a non-family member joined us on our annual excursion. Andrew had been dating Tara Somer for a few months and brought her up from UNL for the weekend to see Ben. Ben was home on leave after 12 weeks of boot camp with the Marines. The time was right for a trip to Pony Creek and somehow it seemed okay to bring Tara along on what had always been a family outing. A year later, Andrew proposed to Tara and she officially became a member of our family in 2009.
I neglected to tell Tara to bring proper footwear that day…
Eighteen years ago we pulled up many of our roots in California and settled in Nebraska. Andrew was seven, Benny four and Garin only ten months old at the time. In the early years of living here we began several family traditions. The weekend of Thanksgiving became the time we went to Desoto Wildlife preserve to see several hundred thousand snow geese migrating south from Canada. Labor day weekend we hiked or road bikes on the Wabash Nature Trail in Iowa (one year we did the entire 48 mile trail). Early spring we went backpacking at Indians Caves State Park.
A few years ago a late arriving winter caused the snow geese to change their migration route and Desota has become a thing of the past. Our Labor day bike ride also somehow fell by the wayside. And, although we made it to Indian Caves this past spring, it was a spur of the moment decision and almost didn’t happen. As we ventured over to Pony Creek this fall I couldn’t help but wonder if this, too, was about to pass into history. Some things hopefully will still remain, like our family vacation in the summer with one or more of the boys, but the those weekend things we did when the kids young will seem destined to become fading memories.