It is not often that I get to spend some time with my niece and nephew. They seem to always be involved in one activity or another, sports, clubs, just being busy. To some degree, I do not know them that well. They know my kids and they know who I am, we live in the same two-family house. However, we do not find time enough to truly interact. A few times a year I usually ask my brother and sister-in-law to let the kids travel with us the 150 miles to our farm. We all get to spend some quality time together to reconnect and they get to spend some time with their grandparents out on the farm as an added special bonus. They run free, playing with the goats, chasing chickens, riding ATV's, being kids. Ice cream and pizza for dinner, mud and water and sunshine during the day. Grandma and Grandpa usually have some special gifts squirreled away for these weekends. These are jam-packed, fun-filled weekends.
Our last foray with the kids into the wilds brought an opportunity of sun, snow, and a gorgeous mountain day to go for a hike. My kids ran for their gear, knowing a hike usually consists of also finding a cache or two. Now, for anyone that follows the Gravel Road already knows, caches (geocaches) are little, hidden treasures found by downloading coordinates from a computer to a GPS and then following the GPS to "ground zero" of where the treasure is hidden. The treasure is usually a small ammo box or Tupperware filled with silly little trinkets stashed out of sight along a hiking, biking, or walking trail. As the now attached stat bars alongside this writing can attest, the kids truly enjoy the treasure hunt. And they were more than eager to share their secret searches with their cousins.
The day was bright. The roads were muddy. The snow on the trail was deep and crunchy. The kids were vibrating with excitement. They couldn't get down the trail fast enough. The four of them were running from tree to tree, from rock to rock, glimpsing at the GPS as they ran. I had to call my kids back, to allow their cousins a chance to find the hidden box. Searching in the rocks of an outcrop, reaching under fallen logs, digging through the snow, the search was chaotic and fun. My young niece finally found the box safely tucked under a tree root sticking out from the short rocky ledge. She excitedly sifted through the baubles inside, looking for a keeper. There was a victory dance and some trash talking before the box was rehidden and we returned to the hiking trail. The kids sprinted back down the trail to the truck, hooting and hollering along the way. They cried out for another set of coordinates, for another cache.
A short drive brought us to a secluded Boy Scout camp in rural upstate NY. The kids scrambled out of the truck in a tangle of arms and legs, trying to be the first to secure the prize. It was cute seeing three young Girl Scouts debating the whereabouts of the hidden container in the middle of a snow-covered dirt road before climbing the entrance wall to the camp and discovering the Boy Scouts' cache. We left them a special trinket with a mileage tracker and special story as well as their unique Girl Scout swap. With one short trip, and two fairly quick finds, the kids were hungry and the big people were ready for home.
The rest of the weekend flew by, with more games and adventures. The trip home found us interrupted by a bathroom stop along the highway. To keep the kids busy while awaiting the bathroom-breakers, I found a cache nearby and everyone again piled out in a rush to find the hidden Tupperware. The stop was short and just a distraction before we hit the road again, and the rest of the trip was filled with snores and quiet, sleepy grumbles from the backseat. At the journey's end, my niece and nephew quickly returned to their at-home routine, as "Uncle John" had brought them home after their scheduled bedtime on a school night (What a rebel!). Our time together had ended without much ceremony or fanfare.
It was not until a few days later when we received a text message and saw an accompanying segment on Facebook of the "wonderful new world of treasures and adventures" that my niece had found so enthralling. She had brought home a new hobby, a new interest. She has since dragged my brother out in the dark of night in search of new, local caches. During weekends, she has tried to run and find some hidden goodies in between soccer. It would be a lie to say that I do not feel a little twinge of pride of opening up a new world to my niece. I can not say that it does not make me smile to know that my brother is now haunted by little plastic key chains hidden in public parks searched out by kids young and old. To know, in some little way, that my family has contributed to the memories that his family now makes brings a satisfying grin. I can not wait for our next trip together, for our new adventures, for what is hidden under the next fallen tree or down the next hiking trail. Though our time with them is short, it is always special.