My son Abel will be two years old in May. Our house is small, and when winter began, I was concerned that as the cold days wore on, it would start to feel like the walls were closing in on us. But so far, we’re doing okay. We’ve learned that we can still play outside as long as the temperature is above thirty degrees. And if it’s colder than that but sunny, if we bundle up, we can still take a short walk or enjoy a brief stay at the playground.

One mild Saturday in February, we were on our way out the door, headed to the playground. It was one of those days where time kept getting away from us. I’d bundled up Abel in his coat, hat and mittens, then realized that he needed a diaper change. Then the phone rang. Then Abel became fascinated with a toy on our screen porch. When I asked, “Do you want to go to see the big slide? Do you want to ride on the seesaw?” he said “No.”

So maybe the playground wasn’t going to happen after all. Anyway, it was getting close to naptime.

Done amusing himself on the screen porch, Abel asked, “See Dada? See Dada?” Then commanded, “See Dada in barn!”

My husband was trying to get some work done. But I figured we could go down and say hello at least, and tell him we weren’t going out after all. On the way out of the barn Abel spotted my husband’s tractor, and commanded “Tractor! Ride!”

This is a common occurrence. Abel likes to sit on the tractor and pretend he’s driving it. So we “rode” the tractor, and then we went to the shed to “ride” the other tractor, and sit on the motorcycle — and then we did the same loop again, because Abel wanted to touch all the wheels. “Wheels!” he shouted.

We do have outdoor toys. We have a sandbox and a swing and a little slide. We have a wagon and a tricycle and two dozen different-size balls. But these days Abel is more fascinated with Dada’s “toys.”

So I said to Abel, “I know where Dada has ANOTHER tractor. Do you want to see it?”

“Anudder one? ANUDDER one!” He was excited.

I said, “But first we have to take a walk in the woods.”

“Walk in da WOODS!”

Abel has been walking for almost a year. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?”

So we followed a path through the woods, to the clearing where my husband stores yet another tractor. After “riding” it and touching the wheels, Abel was ready to move on.

“Do you want to see the baby river?” I asked. Using the word “baby” to describe something is guaranteed to get Abel’s attention.

“Baby river! Baby RIVER!”

Abel has finally learned the difference between a river, pond, and ocean. At least most of the time.

We took the typical toddler route along the path, stopping to investigate deer scat, surveyor’s flags, and big sticks, which Abel would hand to me to carry.

A tiny brook skirts the rear border of our property. It’s maybe two inches deep, and sometimes you have to look carefully to see if it’s flowing. The mild days had caused a lot of snow to melt, so the brook was flowing fairly well. Abel actually shuddered with excitement. “Baby RIVER!”

At first he seemed afraid to get close to it. I gave him a long stick so he could make ripples in the water. He inched closer and closer, until he ended up sitting down at the water’s edge, splashing with both his feet and the stick, and getting quite wet. It was hard to tear him away.

After about ten minutes of playing in the brook, Abel and I headed back to the house for naptime, gathering sticks the whole way.

A toddler will spend a long time being fascinated with the simplest things. So on a day when it seems like there’s nothing to do, a simple tour of the backyard can provide all sorts of fun. We both got some fresh air and exercise, Abel saw something new, and I had a chance to slow down and enjoy the quiet of the forest.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
February 2008

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