Nature Bites Back

Yesterday was Earth Day. It was also national parks week, meaning free entrance to national parks. Buddy is a natural hiker, and Sissy is turning out to be in the same mold. So I found a park about a hour drive away and packed the kids up for a fun filled adventure. First, to see a mammoth excavation site that has been turned into a national park. Then to a large park along the Brazos River with lots to do.

As always, I made sure to take sunscreen. I’m extremely fair skinned and burn easily. And even though my husband is multiracial and dark, both kids inherited my complexion. I was hoping that they would have inherited their father’s ability to tan and not mine to burn, but I’ve also not want to bet on it.

I also took a can of bug spray. We live in Texas, and right now we have been given a lot of warnings about zika. Lately I’ve been seeing headlines along the lines of bug spray is safe, zika is not, make sure you spray!

Having experienced plenty of sun burns in the past, and having family members have to be treated for skin cancer, I know that the sun is dangerous. Yet when I slather my kids with sunscreen, I also can’t help worrying about all of the unnatural chemicals. Doubly so for bug spray. And today it hit me just how badly our cultural panic over things that are unnatural has eclipsed our common sense. I have experienced the unpleasantness of sunburn countless of times, but I still second guess wearing sunscreen, even though I’ve never been harmed by sunscreen.

I was able to get Sissy lathered up, but Buddy ran as soon as he saw the woods and I was only able to give him a cursory coat.

We saw the mammoths first and learned that they had died in a flood and possible landslide. Nature was definitely not kind to them. Next we went to the other park, and my GPS led me to a part of the park that did not have much for toddlers to do. Really, the only thing to do was hike through some very complex unmarked trails. Buddy was game, Sissy gave it a good try, but she was just too little.

What happened next emphasized that nature is not exactly our friend. The trails at this park were hard. Buddy was having the time of his life, Sissy was getting frustrated. At one point Buddy flew down a steep hill (probably about an 85 degree incline) marred with tree roots and rocks. Even if I’d had my baby carrier with me, I would not have been able to get down with Sissy without losing my balance (I carry a big backpack filled with a gallon of water and other supplies on my back and wear her on the front. Just with the backpack I was having a hard time keeping my balance).

Sissy alternated between trying to get down on her own and wanting me to carry her. Meanwhile I was worried if I didn’t get down there to where Buddy was I’d never see him again. For Buddy’s part, he was having a ball staying near the bottom but exploring the area. I thanked my lucky stars once again that, unlike a lot of children with autism, he doesn’t elope and likes to keep me in his line of sight.

I got to a very difficult part of the hill and Sissy wanted me to pick her up. And then the inevitable happened: we fell. Sissy was okay. I’d hurt my arm and pulled a muscle over my rib cage that made breathing painful. But we were finally at the bottom of the hill.

At that moment, I was pretty sure nature wanted me dead. I had a few choice words for nature, as well as for myself and how I get myself in these situations. I looked back up at that daunting hill. There was no way I could get Sissy to climb it on her own. So in my injured state I was going to have to get us both up there.

Buddy wasn’t happy about going, but he followed us, thankfully. We got back to the car. Sissy was asleep in minutes after getting on the road.

The next day she seems no worse for the wear. Buddy, however, has definitely inherited my ability to burn. Even under the cover of a dense forest and even with a bit of sunscreen, he has a splotchy sunburn. I’m a bit sore but planning the next outdoor adventure nonetheless.

What I learned this Earth Day? Nature is a wondrous and beautiful thing. However, she is also cruel and will kill you if she can. She is not our friendly goddess willing to provide whatever we need to survive. There seems to be this movement to exalt the healing power of everything natural and despise all that isn’t. And to those people, I know of a park in Texas to refer them to for some education.


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