By KEVIN PROFT/ 6.25.13 - During the RI Sierra Club’s August, 2012 Step Stone Falls outing in West Greenwich I was delighted by seven-year-old Annabelle who seemed excited by everything from catching frogs to reading the trail map. It was a pleasant reminder that the entertainment value of nature can compete with a smart phone or video game when given the chance. At this year’s Step Stone Falls outings, it seemed we wouldn’t get so lucky. “How long have we been hiking,” moaned one of two young boys only minutes into the hike.
The seven of us, five adults and the two seven-year-old boys, set out from the trailhead at 10 a.m. for an hour-long hike up the Wood River to the falls where we would do some swimming, eat our lunches, look for crayfish, then hike back. Steady June rains had transformed the forest floor and canopy into one continuous swath of green and swelled the river considerably. The boys ran ahead, leading the way, and it appeared as though Step Stone was working its magic once again.
Fifteen minutes later, the boys’ initial burst of enthusiasm began to fade until eventually they were plodding along at their moms’ sides. “So how long have we been hiking?” asked Avi.
“About 72 hours,” replied his mom. Avi didn’t seem amused.
“How long have we been hiking now?” he asked a few minutes later.
“And, how long until we get to the end?” asked Ben.
This line of questioning continued for what was probably only a few minutes, but for what seemed like an eternity. The boys’ boredom was snowballing quickly despite the outing still being in its infancy. Then, as if she sensed an opportunity, Mother Nature provided a small miracle - a very small miracle.
“Look!” yelled Avi apparently hiding something between his cupped hands. “It’s a frog!”
The frog was the size of Avi’s thumbnail. How he’d spotted it in the leafy underbrush was beyond me; perhaps being substantially shorter than the rest of us helped. Regardless, he’d caught a frog and his whole constitution seemed to change before our eyes.
Ben seemed equally excited, if not a bit jealous of Avi’s good fortune, and the boys’ energy returned. Suddenly, everything around them seemed interesting. A clump of black fungus on a branch? Cool! A wooden bridge over the river? Amazing! Big rocks to climb on? Super exciting!
When we arrived at the falls, I was alarmed to see how fast the water was rushing. I’d promised swimming, but now, with the boys standing on the riverbank ready to jump in the water, I doubted whether the conditions were safe. There was really only one way to find out.
I stripped down to my swim trunks and eased one leg tentatively into the water. It was freezing, but the current wasn’t strong. I found I could stand in the waste deep water without feeling unsafe.
The boys soon joined me and immediately set their mind to traversing the fastest flowing part of the river. Once again, I was the test dummy, and, once again, I was surprised to be able to withstand the rushing water. I secured myself against a rock and helped shuttle the boys across the current to a rock slab on the other side. Then, after the boys had confirmed that there was really nothing to do on the rock slab, I shuttle them back.
Next we learned that it was possible to walk upstream on the broad, flat steps of the falls. The moss growing on the rocks surprisingly provided traction. As we walked, four inches of water rushed against our feet and ankles. The water was dizzying to look at where it cascaded over each foot-high ledge.
The walk back to the trailhead was punctuated by regular frog sightings - first another of the thumbnail variety, then a few larger ones where the trail crossed over streams. Each evaded capture despite the boys’ best efforts. Then there was the dead cray fish the boys spotted floating in the river which generated even greater excitement than the frogs. Before we knew it, we were back at the parking area.
We parted ways as seven happy hikers - two smiling boys and five adults each relatively shocked by the boys’ enthusiasm for the great outdoors.
*Check out more photos from this outing on Facebook.