"Yuk yuk, is that a stinky skunk
cabbage?" asked Cameron, pointing to a spruce tree.
"Not yet, just a bit further," I encouraged him onwards.
The walk was far from over and we didn't want to peak too
soon. "Is that the stinky cabbage Mummy?"
"No, that's a glacier lily."
"And that one?"
"Then I think Daddy smells. Yuk yuk, he's really stinky."
Passing the joy of hiking on to
a three year old and a four year old has been literally
an uphill struggle. Our kids are full of endless energy
when it comes to playgrounds, soft play centres or toy shops,
but although they have the ability to walk for several miles,
they don't always have the will or concentration.
"I'm tired Daddy, want a carry."
"Why is it such a long way? This walk is too long." Like
any kid, the magnificence of nature, her volcanoes, snow
covered peaks and powdery blue glaciers can't impress them
in quite the same way as a red and yellow bouncy castle.
We've found that any long walk requires quite a bit of imagination
from us, developing games, engaging them in toddler interests
and diverting their attention.
The skunk cabbages were boring so we turned our backs on
them to do frog spotting
The skunk walk failed to deliver
on the smell front. When we found the giant cabbages, they
were pronounced "rubbish."
"Cameron's feet are smellier than that," exclaimed Matthew.
Cameron took his shoes off and sniffed them to confirm his
brother's theory. "Yuk yuk, they stink of skunk."
"What shall we do now Dad?" The main interest of the walk
had come to a sudden but undramatic end. Thankfully nature
helped out around the next corner.
"Look look, frogs. Big frogs, giant ones."
"Wow, they're really mavis, look Daddy."
"He means massive Dad. Is this one asleep or dead? Do frogs
smell horrible or nice?"
"Have a sniff and see."
"Hmmm. It smells a bit skunky. Where's the frog's daddy?"
"I don't know. Maybe he's gone to work."
"I think the frog's Daddy might have done a fart before
The alleged farting frog
Rude or unusual names of walks help
us in our quest to get the kids more mobile. Wildlife spotting
is also a certain winner. A five kilometre hike to a waterfall
was saved by chipmunks scampering with us along the route.
But the kids were unimpressed they weren't allowed to feed
them their picnic lunch.
"Why not Dad?"
"Because if they get used to human junk food, they won't
want to eat their natural diet. Then they either die of
starvation or become a nuisance."
"But it's not junk food, its peanut butter sandwiches. Squirrels
"But it's still not the food chipmunks would find in the
"Then why are those people feeding them?" Behind us, a family
was feeding the chipmunks a packet of smarties, while another
child held out some Reeces pieces.
"Because they don't read signs," said Stuart pointedly.
Come on kids, lets go and find some bears."
The concept of bears running loose
and keen to eat small boys has fascinated Matthew and Cameron
since we entered bear territory. The children are well briefed
to eat their dinner before the bears get to it; they know
not to run ahead in case a bear pounces, and at bedtime,
they shut their eyes immediately in case a grizzly tries
to snuggle into their sleeping bag with them. No need for
a Goldilocks fairytale to impress these kids. A challenging
walk is a delight for everyone when turned into a bear hunt.
"Dad, dad, I think I found a bear footprint."
"Daddy, I can smell bear poo. Come and sniff."
We introduced the kids to their first genuine bear in a
reserve on the mountain at the Canadian ski resort of Kicking
Horse. Apparently there had been no sightings of the grizzly
called Boo all morning, so the boys took up the challenge
of tracking him down, happily spending half an hour scanning
the enclosure from the safety of the electric fence, armed
with sticks to fight off any attack. Up on the mountain
trees waved in the wind, rivers bubbled and babbled, squirrels
hopped around looking for food, but there was no sign of
"Is that it?" said Cam, pointing to a mountain biker in
the distance, bombing down a track outside the enclosure.
"Is that it Dad, is that the bear?" said Matthew, as the
wind rustled in the breeze. "I see it, I see it, there it
is!" Making his way down a stream, about half a kilometre
up the hill, was the young grizzly.
"Yup, that's him guys, that's our bear. Let's call him,"
shouted Stuart with as much excitement as the children
"Boo, Boo, come here Boo," cried the kids, running around
the perimeter fence. But the excitement was all in the chase.
When the big furry grizzly with his humpback and sharp claws
lumbered down to the fence on his routine scavenge for food,
the kids immediately lost interest. For a three and four
year old, imaginary bears are much more exciting than the
Spot the bear.... the boys did
The bear game is redundant now so
we've developed a new game to keep the kids amused on walks.
We blindfold them, take them up to a tree and give them
five minutes to examine and get to know it. Then we walk
them around, spin them a few times and unmask them. They
blink and squint in the sunlight, and then go tearing off
randomly to hunt for their new leafy friend. Matthew finds
his most of the time, by a combination of sniffing, feeling
and guessing his way around, while Cameron usually ends
up making friends with a dead tree stump or rock. But of
course it's much more fun when Daddy plays the game. As
Stuart jokingly stumbles around blindfold, tripping over
trees and falling into heather, the kids are completely
engaged in their surroundings. On yesterday's tramp, when
their Dad faked a head on collision with a spruce tree,
Cameron got very excited.
"Daddy just walked into a skunk cabbage. Hooray! Does it
stink of fart Dad?"
Stuart responded by tripping over a tree root, and falling
noisily into a bush, unaware of the middle aged couple who
were coming up on the path behind him. "Pwooahh, what's
that smell? Who let off?" Stuart shouted.
"We're taking our Daddy for a walk," said Cameron to the
couple. "But he's fallen over into a skunk cabbage."
"Isn't it marvellous how Fathers never grow up," said the
female hiker with a small smile as she stepped over the
turbaned man in shorts who was lying prostrate in the grass.
Get them started early with treehugging... the trees and