On Sunday afternoons Abel (my 16 month-old son) and I often spend time with my parents. In the summer we hung out around my folks’ pool, but now that fall is here, we like to go for walks. Recently we explored the Norris Reservation in Norwell.

When we’re in the woods, I usually transport Abel in a jog stroller. However on this particular Sunday, the jogger had a flat tire, so we opted for a backpack specially designed to carry children. I had purchased it at a yard sale months ago, but this was my first time using it.

A pack loaded with a 20+ pound child isn’t easy to lift onto one’s back. My dad had to help me get Abel up there. And we weren’t sure for how long Abel would tolerate this new outlook. But it turns out that he loved it! As opposed to moving along at stroller-level, it must have been a great novelty to have his head up among those of the adults.

So we set off into the woods. You enter the Norris Reservation by heading down a wide trail that leads to an old mill pond. This is a favorite fishing spot for young families, and sure enough, a father and his two boys had just pulled a small fish out of the water. As we approached, they were examining its scales before throwing it back “to his mother.”

As soon as Abel saw the pond, he shouted “Pool!”

“Pond,” we said. “That’s a pond, Abel. Lots of water – just like a pool.”

Abel has a vocabulary of about sixty words, and can sometimes get his point across quite clearly. “Pool” is his word for most things watery – swimming pools, puddles, the ocean, the rivers.

We started down the path that leads to the old boat house, a favorite spot for many who walk at the Norris. “We’re going to see the river, Abel,” my father said.

“River!” replied Abel.

These days, Abel mimics a lot of the words he hears, but doesn’t necessarily know their meaning. We talked some more about what we might see along the trail. Every once in a while Abel would say “river,” excitedly.

Soon we were at the boat house. We stood at the railing, and looked up- and downstream.

“Pool!” Abel cried, his eyes shining with delight.

“This is the North River,” my mom explained.

“Boat!” said Abel, seeing the vessels moored not far away.

“Yes, there are boats on the river,” I said.

“Pool!” shouted Abel. “Pool, pool!”

My father gathered a handful of stones. Abel has recently figured out how to throw things. He often grunts with the exertion as he throws, but then giggles as the object meets it target. We began handing him the stones, and one by one, he tossed them into the water.

“Rock!” he exclaimed, as each one left his hand. “Pool!” This distracted us all for several minutes.

After awhile, we headed back to the trail and continued our walk. The woods grew denser around us, but every so often we could still see the river through the trees. “See the river?’ we asked Abel.

“River!” said Abel. “River, river!”

He said river! Had he learned a new word?

After climbing a hill, we paused to look out from another vantage point. The river was below us now. “See the river?’ we asked.

“Pool!” said Abel.

We continued through the woods. Abel did a fair share of happy-sounding nonsense babbling, and every so often, he would say “river.” I began to wonder if it actually was the forest he was associating with that word. We have yet to succeed in teaching him “forest,” “woods,” or “trees.”

At another stop to look out over the water, we asked, “See the river, Abel?”

“River!” he replied.

After an hour or so, we had completed our walk. As we passed the mill pond, Abel was beginning to nod off in his back pack. But when he saw the water, he managed to summon enough energy to comment upon it. “Pool . . .” he sighed.

Has he learned the word “river?” We’re not sure. But we’ll be returning soon to the Norris Reservation, and to many other of our area’s nature preserves, to find out.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
September 2007

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit