Watch Your Step!


We have ruined our oldest daughter for hiking forevermore. What began as a fun family adventure culminated in an angst-filled memory.

It was a gorgeous fall day, and we were doing the Minnesota thing by heading “Up North” to inhale the essence of Lake Superior just north of Duluth at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

The park is a treasure trove of meandering trails, bluffs and easy-access waterfalls. Hike five minutes and BOOM—a stunning waterfall. Hike five more and BAM—another one! As predicted, the kids were magnetically drawn to nature. We were like a family on the front of travel brochures. Someone should have been taking pictures of our natural ease in the wilderness.

We were there for the Geocaching Avian Adventure. The kids were pumped about pursuing the Bird Cache as we tinkered with the GPS devices. We took turns reading the coordinates aloud. There may have been singing.

But I soon noticed the clues were taking us farther from the beaten path and deeper into leaf-covered ones.

“Snake!” our son suddenly announced as he pointed toward something rustling.

Indeed it was.

We froze. Our oldest daughter screamed, and I considered abandoning the mission.

Instead, we offered assurance that the odds of seeing another on the same day were “so… incredibly…slim.”

“Snake!” our son reported seven steps later.

Big Sister began to jog in place while flapping her hands chaotically and demanding that Daddy, “DO SOMETHING!”

I wanted to join her outburst, but I had to be an example of courageousness.

“Let’s get out of here!” I calmly advised while sprinting away. “The odds are in our favor now. No more snakes today.”

Little Sister, who adores snakes, crawled up onto Daddy’s shoulders for a better view.

“There’s a snake. There’s a baby! Three. Four,” she began, counting mamas and babies from her perch.

We were doomed. DOOMED!

Reptiles camouflaged by fallen leaves and prairie grass were basking in the sun all around us. The trail would have been aptly named “Snakes of the Bluffland.”

There have been occasions as a mother when I’ve wanted to assume a fetal position. But, I am the mom! The promise of a bird trading card had lost its luster. Big Sister was a mess. There was a mixed bag of commentary: “I want to go home! Why did you bring us here? This is the worst day of my life! I’m not taking another step!! I like INDOOR VACATIONS!!!”

My husband reassured us of a rocky trail ahead along the banks of the river. I was skeptical, but there were no options. No rescue crew with a helicopter. Instead, we hiked single file.

I knew something was amiss when he halted abruptly every few feet. That’s when I saw them. Snakes on the hill to my left and snakes…under…MY…FEET! Clearly it was a nest.

I grabbed my daughter’s shoulders and gave her a firm nudge forward. There was a blood-curdling scream as she shoved her brother, who screamed and shoved my husband, who flung around to throw his hands in the air and demand that we all stop—ON THE SNAKE NEST—to avoid plummeting into the river.

I did the only thing a reasonable mother could do: I ditched them.

I shimmied alongside my hysterical children (with arms outstretched to protect them from falling into the river, of course) then took off. Eventually they followed, but it took some time for the wailing to cease.

Back at the lodge, we reported the situation. The ladies just smiled and cooed about how much they love those “little fellas” because they take care of the mosquitoes.

It took days for our oldest daughter to recover. She claims she will never, ever go hiking again and that we need to accept her for who she is now: “indoorsy.”