In the above post, I mentioned finding a nature trail created from a torn-up railroad bed. It goes through forest, meadow, and swamp and I planned to take the boys there. This evening I told the boys to get their shoes on--we were going! There was minimal complaining. (!)
Although the place is biking distance away, Aran can't ride, so we drove over and parked in the school lot. When we hit the beginning of the trail, we encountered a flock of geese with youngsters on a section of trail that passed between two huge ponds (or maybe they're small lakes). The geese marched away, and the boys promptly set about throwing rocks from the trail into the water. I showed Maksim how to skip stones and we all set about trying to see who could skip the most. Sasha got several skips.
Farther down, Sasha, who was walking ahead, found the snapping turtle. It was huge! At least eighteen inches long, not counting head and tail. It was crossing the trail. I'd never seen a wild turtle that big in Michigan. I warned the boys not to touch it--snappers can be dangerous--but they and I were able to examine it freely. It hunkered into its shell and watched us pointedly: "Get those fingers too close, buddy, and I'm keeping one." Maksim was fascinated beyond all fascination.
Eventually we let it be. I was still getting over being impressed when Sasha found the turtle nest. The trail, you see, is loosely packed earth and gravel, good digging material. Sasha found an indentation in the ground with the remains of rubbery eggshells in it. They were all that was left of recently-hatched baby turtles! We spent considerable time examining them, and I explained how turtles bury their eggs near water (in this case, swamp) so the babies can scurry into it when they hatch and dig themselves out.
A little farther down, we found another turtle, also huge. This one was half-buried in dirt at the side of the trail, and we suspect it (she) was laying eggs. And then we found another, and another! All in all, we found five enormous snapping turtles and dozens of hatched-out nests.
Maksim also found a snake, which freaked out and slithered away.
When we entered a heavily-forested area, Aran said it seemed like we would have a magical adventure. I said I used to do that when I was his and Maksim's age, that it always felt like a fantasy world or a castle with a dragon in it would be just around the bend, and I finally started writing my make-believe games down as stories.
This set Mackie off, and he created a story about a boy who lived in a cabin with his grandparents and who had an encounter with a god.
I pointed out a group of enormous trees looming ahead and said they looked like giants storming toward us. "What do the trees look like to you, Maksim?"
"That one looks sad," he said, pointing to a drooping tree. "And that one looks like a dead body that rose up from a grave."
I told him those were awesome descriptions. Then I turned to Aran. "What do you think the trees look like?"
"A forest," he said, with the literal-mindedness that inevitably accompanies autism.
"But what do they =look= like," I pressed. "How would you describe them to someone who couldn't see what you can?"
"They look like a forest," he replied, confused.
"You want to write that fantasy story about twenty swords," I said. "Writers use descriptions like similes and metaphors. What if you had to describe the trees without using the words 'forest' or 'tree'? You might say, 'The tree looked like . . . '"
"That tree is depressed," he said.
Ah ha! He =can= do it on his own! "Fabulous! What about that one?"
"That tree is a warrior," he said.
Maksim chimed in with more figurative language of his own, which prompted yet more from Aran. (Sasha was walking ahead, looking for more turtle nests.) And Mackie added more about his boy-in-the-cabin story. And I told them about the YA series I want to write when THE CLOCKWORK EMPIRE is done.
"I've written a ten-page draft of my own story," Sasha said.
"We're a family of writers," I replied. "You're all so creative!"
At last we arrived back at the car and drove home. Maksim promptly set about writing down his story about the cabin boy, and he wants me to submit it to my writers group. Aran learned how to create his own figurative language. Sasha took pictures of the turtle egg shells he brought home.
It was the best nature hike in the whole wide world.