Experiences, anecdotes, tips, how-tos, hiking, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Importance of a Name: Never Touch Wild Animals in Their Habitat

To continue with our day trip motif, have you ever visited the sea shore or any lake beach? My children are beach bunnies. They love sand, surf, and sun. We have the good fortune of my husband’s parents living in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. A beautiful home, with an upstairs for noisy family visitors. 
The Lees crew at the point
              in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Stone Harbor shares its sandy barrier island with Avalon, another beach town. Visiting my in-laws gave us the luxury to hike the point in Stone Harbor often. The point is the tip of Stone Harbor and Hereford’s Inlet between Stone Harbor and the Wildwoods.

Just like when we go camping with five kids, when we’re down the shore, we remind our children that we’re visitors to other creatures’ habitats and need to respect both the creatures and their homes. Our family always gets excited when we see a new sea animal at the beach.

The best time to visit the point is during low tide. Here in New Jersey, low tide occurs about every 12 hours and 20 minutes or so. Tides are primarily caused by the moon. There is an excellent short video about what causes tides at science.howstuffworks. https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/tide-cause.htm Look toward the bottom of the blog for the video on tides.

Now on this particular journey to the point, our family found the most interesting animal. When the tide goes out at the point, it leaves behind tidal pools. On this occasion, the pool was about three feet deep. As we and other families were wading through, kicking and splashing each other, I noticed a dark, round object gliding just beneath the surface.

“Everyone out of the water,” I told my family.
“Mo-om,” our son protested. [There’s always one!]
“Look!” I pointed to the dark shape, and the children scampered up the sand bank.
“What is it?” Our oldest daughter asked.
We found safety at the
              sandy banks of the tidal pool.

Good question. Other families heard me and left the water, too. As I watched the animal glide through the water, I realized we were looking at stingray. Gracefully, it seemed like he was flying through the water. The white edges of its water wings curled and flapped under the sea. We watched in wonder. The stingray we saw was about the size of a large roundish platter, with its stick of a tail poking straight out its back. Here’s an informative short video of swimming stingrays at the National Geographic site.  

Again, we reiterated to our children how you do NOT touch or approach wild animals—even ones found in the sea. Seriously, I thought other people understood this. Unfortunately, one father, who told his family to step out of the tidal pool, went back into the pool to try and lift up one side of the stingray.

I couldn’t believe this! Everyone watched from the banks of the pool. Think about the animal’s name, I thought to myself. It’s a STINGray. Suddenly, the gentleman screamed out in pain, holding both his hands palm up as he hurried to the sandy bank and his family. I couldn’t help myself. I scooted closer to his family and saw the angry red blister-like marks on his fingers. I guessed he was stung by the ray’s wing edges.

“Never, never touch wild animals in their habitat,” I told my children. The stingray may have looked docile, but I didn’t know where the “sting” part of the animal lay. Apparently, there are stingers at the edges of its wings.

The children couldn’t wait to get back to Gram and Pop’s house to tell them about seeing the stingray. We all learned a valuable lesson that day. And, unfortunately, so did that father and his family—the hard way. Poor thing! I wondered if he needed to have stingers taken out or just the wounds treated.

Thanks for visiting Camping with Five Kids. I hope you’ve had a great summer, too. Please leave a comment about your favorite trip to a beach or the shore.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Day Trips: Summer in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

You know, not every family trip needs to be a long camping excursion. Many times we took the children on day trips. Day trips are a convenient way to spend quality time with the family, away from home obligations and distractions. At the same time, you can learn about an area or a local national park. 
Philly's a beautiful place to visit!
For the Lees crew, one of our favorite local trips is to see what’s going on in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the new World Heritage Cities. To obtain the classification of a World Heritage City, among other things, a city must be important to the history and heritage of a country, which Philadelphia is for the United States of America. The World Heritage City site must also be approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. 
A country and government was
              born right here at Independence Hall.

Philadelphia’s importance to the United States should not be underestimated, especially during the country’s formative years. Philly was the seat of government at the birth of our new country way back in the 1700’s. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 at Independence Hall. And the country’s government was created and signed into effect with the Constitution of the United States in 1787 at that very same place.  Philly served as the capital of the new-formed country from 1790 to1800, while Washington, D.C., was being constructed. And during that period, the Bill of Rights was drafted and adopted.

That’s a lot of history contained at Philadelphia’s Independence National HistoricalPark.      

But that’s not all Philadelphia has to offer. Mighty universities sprung up, like nation’s first university, the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League created by Benjamin Franklin in 1749.

A mini history of the university from its website says that “Penn went on to obtain a collegiate charter (1755), graduate its first class (1757), establish the first medical school in the American colonies (1765) and become the first American institution of higher education to be named a university (1779).”

Another beautiful day trip can be had at Boat House Row along the Schuylkill River. It’s a great place to picnic under a tree, walk the paved paths, bike ride or roller blade. Boat House Row is right by the Philadelphia Art Museum, another beautiful place to visit. 
A perfect day for a picnic as we
               explored Boat House Row park.

Philadelphia has one of the largest parks of any city, Fairmount Park, and within that beautiful park full of hiking trails and streams is the Philadelphia Zoo, America’s oldest zoo. Families of all kinds enjoy the zoo, or at least mine does.

Now I realize these are but small tidbits of what to see and do in Philadelphia. I’ve included websites so you can plan your own visits. Actually, to really enjoy all Philadelphia and its vicinity has to offer, it’s a good idea to make several day trips out of this. That’s what we do. Of course, it could easily be a full vacation in itself.  

So stuff a daypack full of treats and drinks. Grab the camera to catch all the memories. And don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes and sun hats and carry sunscreen and bug spray. Then head out for a day or two of family fun.

If you are visiting the Philadelphia area this 4th of July, here’s a webpage to all the fun during the Independence Day Celebration. Enjoy!

            Thanks for visiting Camping with Five Kids. Please leave a comment about your favorite day trip to take.
Also, please note that I will not post in August of 2018. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading about my Camping with Five Kids adventures. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Time for a Story: How to Don a Swimsuit Inside a Sweltering Tent Trailer

            Oh sure, it’s easy to put on a bathing suit at home, in the privacy of your own room, with the air-conditioning on. Did you ever try to put one on in a hot and sticky tent after a day’s adventures on the trail? Enjoying the pool or lake at campgrounds is my “thank you” to the children for allowing me to see this beautiful country of ours. It’s refreshing. It eases the joints after a day’s hiking. It relaxes the mind. …If you can get the suits on! The good news is that children don’t sweat as heavily as adults. At least mine don’t. Their bodies weren’t as sticky as mine.  
Changing into a swimsuit in
a tent in a desert is brutal.

            Well after years of trying to accomplish this feat as quickly as possible, I’ve come up with a few tricks. Allow me to enlighten you.

Start with the children. This way when you’re finished, you can just run for water.
Parenting tips to get pool ready when it’s 110 degrees in the tent trailer:

Peel off sweat-drenched clothing. Do not leave on cushions! This is the part my children keep forgetting. I’m not sure if it’s because I tell them not to leave their clothes on the floor at home. The kids can’t seem to distinguish between sweaty, damp clothing and good clothing that can be worn again; specifically, unsmelly church or holiday clothing.

Dab at sweat pouring off body with beach towel. Do not use bath towel! This is not a difficult job to distinguish between the towels. I don’t know about you, but my bath towels don’t say, “Surfing at Stone Harbor” on them or have huge, colorful sailboats in the middle of them.

Now, tackle spandex bathing suit. Boys’ bathing trunks are much easier. No fair! I have four girls who can’t seem to get their suits on when they’re hot and miserable. [Okay, so maybe I do try to see too much when we camp in certain areas.]

Stretch the tiny leg holes as much as possible. Force legs through the fast-closing gap.

Squeeze the now sweaty, drippy torso into the shrunken, sticky suit. This is the adult part. It’s amazing how difficult this is to do. In my case, it’s like cramming an adult body with a lot of mileage on it into a neoprene wetsuit meant for a two-year-old.

Rip suit up towards bosom. Another difficult task!

The Lees crew enjoys the natural coolness
of a mountain stream after finally
wrestling their suits on. 
Thrust dripping arms through suit straps.

Run out of the sauna— I mean trailer—screaming “Water, water!”
Too bad we only visited family campground. It would have been much easier to just go “skinny dipping.”

Have you ever tried to get into a bathing suit while in a cramped space in the heat when you’re all sweaty? Feel free to offer any tips you may have on how you remedied the situation.

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids and leaving a note. It’s greatly appreciated. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Time for a Story: A Mother Can’t Play Favorites; or Can She?

A mother should never play favorites with her children. My mother had instilled this concept in me after the birth of my second child and continued to remind me after the births of my next three children. I’ve also read about the detriments of favoritism online and in books. I realize this to be true. However, can’t there be allowances made in certain circumstances? You know, like when you and the family are about 1,400 miles from home and in crisis. Sometimes a particular child can become a favorite just by sheer size. Let me explain.  
We were heading out west the first time
               to see Colorado when we had a little
            problem in a parking lot.

We were on our first westward trip, from New Jersey to Colorado, and the troops were getting restless after travelling in the van a few days. I mean we do entertain the troops on long road trips with games and journals and tape recorders, but this was a particularly hot and sticky day and the kids were bored. So my husband decided to stop at Walmart. An innocent enough gesture to break up the day’s drive.

“Who wants to come into the store?” My husband asked the troops.
“What are you going to buy?” Our oldest asked in response, always the practical one.
Now while I’d answer with something interesting to get the kids inside the air-conditioned store, my husband’s a pillar of truth.

“I don’t know,” he told them. “I’m just going to look around.”

Not enough. He only got the shoppers in the family; our second daughter and the twins.

Nuts! I was trapped in a hot van with my son and the oldest. I couldn’t leave them in the van alone. I wouldn’t know where to begin to look for them if they weren’t in the car when I came out of the store. Okay, I was terrified that something would happen to them. I didn’t know anyone in Kansas. And besides, I wanted to get to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

My husband, sporting a smile on his handsome face, left with the shoppers. I grumbled in the passenger seat with my window down, praying for a breeze. The kids were quiet in the captain chairs behind my seat. I turned around to be sure they hadn’t passed out in the heat. They just sat there sweating with glum faces.

“You know,” I started. “They might have cold drinks in the grocery section of the Walmart.”

Nothing. Maybe they were unconscious with their eyes open.

“How about we buy some ice cream cups or salty snacks like a big bag of popcorn or pretzels.”

They bolted upright. I had them with food. We shut our windows and locked the van, racing through the parking lot and into the cool store.

We found the others by the ice cream section. They already had a bag of pretzels and some cold juice bottles.

“Get the Dixie cups,” I told my husband. “We need to be able to eat them in one sitting.”

“Makes sense,” he said. He opened the freezer door and all our children crowded in front of him, hogging the cold air escaping from the freezer. Good thing my husband has long arms.

But I wanted some of that cold air. I turned to the next freezer and opened it, basking in the cold air wafting from it.

“Vic!” My husband looked at me. His hands were full. “You said you wanted the Dixie cups.”

I closed the freezer. “Yep! Just trying to absorb a little cold air for later.”

We paid for the groceries and headed outside. Crossing the parking lot, my husband asked, “Do you have the keys, Vic?”

“Keys?” I looked at him, any effects of the cold air from the freezer evaporating instantly. The heat invaded my underarms. “You took the keys when you turned off the van, right?”

The children were hanging onto the locked door handles of the van. Suddenly, visions of our family eating ice cream in the front of the Walmart store for hours flooded my mind. How long would it take AAA to come and help us get into our car?

The important thing here, readers, is not to blame each other in the middle of a sweltering store parking lot in Kansas. [It was difficult!]

My husband swallowed. Hard. “Maybe I can get a coat hanger from someone in the store and try to unlock a door.”

I was walking around the locked van trying not to cry. 
Thank God for back slider windows on a
               conversion van. And thank God for
           slim young children. 

The kids were bunched up against the van in a small sliver of shade, wolfing down the melting ice cream cups.

Then I saw it. One of the tiny slider windows in the back of the van was open, or rather just screen-closed. I slid the screen open and called to my husband. “Can you reach in and unlock the center doors?” I didn’t think his reach was long enough, but I had no other idea.

When I turned to look at him, he was staring at the open hole and then at his children. He selected the slimmest twin, only ten years old, took her ice cream cup and gave it to our son. 

“Dad,” she complained.

“Pretend you’re diving, sweetie,” he said. “Turn your head sideways!” He picked her up.

“What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed for her safety.

He easily slipped her through the slider window. “Unlock the doors!”

She crawled off the bench seat and unlocked the van. We all cheered!

That night at camp, she became our MVC—most valuable child—because she saved us all from heat stroke in a store parking lot. She got to choose dinner and didn’t need to be a part of preparation or clean-up. 

In our bunk that night, I told my husband that our little “slim bean” was indispensable to our family camping trips.

“We can’t keep her that size forever,” he said as he rolled onto his side.

“Then I guess we need to keep the spare van key on a lanyard around your neck for the next time you leave the keys in the car.”

He bopped me with his pillow, but I took the spare van key out of the camper drawer and put it by his wallet. We kept a spare trailer key in the glovebox of the van. But it didn’t do us any good that day because we couldn’t get inside the van. Live and learn, ladies and gentlemen.

Have you ever locked your keys in the car or were you ever locked out of the house? Please offer any tips you may have on how you remedied the situation.

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids and leaving a note. It’s greatly appreciated. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Home: The Return of the Lees Family Across the Country

Eastward, ho! After a month-long adventure, mostly on the west coast of the United States of America, the Lees troops headed for New Jersey and home. We drove back, as we drove out; slowly. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s important to stop often when driving long distances with children. Stopping often is good practice for anyone traveling distances. You want to rest your eyes from the road and stretch your legs and shoulders to work out any kinks. This is imperative if you have been driving in high traffic.

Stopping often allows for bathroom breaks and meals. It aids digestion to eat meals out of the vehicle. We like to picnic at rest stops as we always travel with nutritious foods. Don’t get me wrong. We eat treats. Where my husband is powered by coffee, I’m powered by dark chocolate. –But don’t tell the kids. They don’t realize how much of it I eat. It’s my mother’s fault, really. She’s a chocoholic too!

To drive back across the country, we did it in hops. Seeing a few sights we had missed going out to the West Coast.
The twins fought for time on the layback bicycle.
           The bikes were in high demand at camp.

I’m not sure if we were just ready to be home after this long trip or what, but we slowed the pace a little, entertaining ourselves at the kid-friendly campgrounds where our kids fished, fed some farm animals, and swam or rode those funny layback, three-wheeled bicycles. We watched brilliant sunsets, saw the Milky Way fill the black canvas of night. We played clue and scrabble as we headed eastward. 

We broke up driving days with smaller side trips. In Wyoming we saw Devils Tower. It looked like a giant old rotted tree stump to me. However, at the Visitor’s Center—I love visitors’ centers!—we learned it was made of igneous rock formed underground and pushed upward into the sedimentary rock. The sedimentary rock eroded away, but the tower of hardened igneous rock is left standing.
You know, Devils Tower also looks like the
petrified insides of a volcano. Geologists say no.
It really is intriguing to see. Of course, the children wanted to climb the crevices and repel down the columns of the Tower as we watched experienced climbing groups do. We spoke to one of the guides and she says it takes all day to climb and repel.  
I tried to stress to our children the important word in our conversation with the guide: “experienced” climbers do this. Luckily we didn’t have enough time to even consider it, although my son says he wants to return and do it.
“When you’re older, son,” my husband said.
I agreed. I also told the kids to tell me AFTER they finish their daredevil escapades. My nerves!   

I forgot to mention that on the way out west, we stopped in Brule, Nebraska, near Rt. 80 to see the ruts of the original Oregon Trail. A piece of history, we told the children, with its chest high prairie grasses, thistle rod, and cattails. We didn’t realize there is a whole trail system you can visit. We learned that once we returned home. At the time, we simply took the photo you see while the children told us to hurry up so they can get to the West Coast to “see something really interesting.” 
A tiny piece of the original Oregon Trail in
               Nebraska. Pretty cool it’s still here. 

            On our last night out, it rained and rained and rained. We didn’t care. Tomorrow we would be home.
But then we had to break camp. Here is a lesson in how NOT to break camp in the rain:

            Line four kids up in raincoats between tent and van
Shove fifth kid in van at the end of the receiving line
Empty tent supplies along kid line to the dry person in van to stow behind seats
Allow husband to “crank down” trailer while wife is still shoving in sopping wet canvas
Tell kids to climb in van
Parents climb in van

Discover supplies piled on every inch of floor space
Find kids bunched together at door, raincoats dripping onto supplies
Realize the driver is miserable because he’s sopping wet
Driver shouts for anything dry to change into
Six people frantically search a fog-enclosed van that smells like wet dog and come up with swim trunks and a sweatshirt
Driver stops at the restrooms on the way out of camp to change.

It finally stopped raining but remained cloudy on our drive home. We were four hours away from home, in western Pennsylvania, after travelling across the country twice, before our passenger van broke down. We needed a new fuel pump. Guess what? They didn’t have one. But the shop could get one in three days’ time.

We left the trailer chained to a rest area guard rail in Pennsylvania, told the state police about it and our car trouble. Left the van in the shop and rented a tiny “7 passenger minivan” to drive home in. We took our wet clothing, dirty laundry, and any food we had left, and drove straight home, arriving about 1 a.m. at the house.

            The neighbor who was watching our home while we were away had filled the refrigerator with cold drinks and sweet rolls to welcome us back. We celebrated our accomplishment—surviving a cross-country trip with the family—by devouring the drinks and sweet rolls; then crashed in our own comfortable, sweet-smelling beds until midmorning the next day.

            Have you ever taken a long, long vacation with children? Were you all ready to come home by the end of the trip?

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

What to Do If You Meet a Wild Animal on the Trail

            We took another park ranger guided hike in Olympic National Park in Washington State, but this time we learned far more than just basic facts about the forest. After visiting the museum exhibits and watching the orientation movie at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center, we went outside to take the Hurricane Hill Trail. The 1.5 mile trail climbs up about 700 feet through woods and meadows to Hurricane Hill.
Stunning Olympic National Park.

            As usual, the ranger discussed environmental issues and facts about the area, and the crowd of followers listened intently. Of course my children poked and pushed each other. So what else is new?

            But as we climbed toward Hurricane Hill, we took a rest under a tree. It was there that the ranger shared an encounter he had, an encounter with a mountain lion.

            “Wait!” I started to tremble.
The twins climbed up a nearby boulder.
I scanned my surroundings.
In fact, everyone in the group began peering around.

“There aren’t any mountain lions around right now,” the ranger assured us.
A collective sigh came from his captive audience. Yet I still held my breath and the twins refused to come down from the boulder.
            “But that particular day,” he began. “As I climbed the trail, I heard a low growl above me and looked up the mountain.”
            All of us looked up the side of the hill truly expecting to see the lion. I couldn’t move.
            “The mountain lion crouched on a boulder, looking down at me.”  
We did NOT see a lion on that day!

            The twins sprang from the boulder and huddled by me and my husband.
            “What did you do,” our son asked, eyes shining with delight. I could see he wished this encounter happed to him.
            My nerves!

            “Whenever you see a wild animal, I don’t care if it’s a lion, bear, or elk.” He looked into everyone’s eyes to be sure they were paying attention.
            We could hear the birds in the trees, we were so riveted!
            He continued. “You spread your arms out, holding your jacket open; if you’re wearing one, otherwise hold out a pack or hat, something to make you look wider and bigger than you are. Then back away slowly—keeping your eyes on the animal.” 
            Still no one breathed.
            “Why don’t you run away or climb a tree?” Leave it to our son to ask the question.
            The ranger turned directly to face him. “You never run from a wild animal.”
            The authority in the ranger’s voice hit home. Even our son took a step back.
            “A wild animal might think you want to play if you run away from it. You must look as big as possible and back away slowly, keeping eye contact with the creature.”

            I must admit, I can’t really remember anything after that on our guided hike. Even our children were quiet. 

            It took a few days for the twins to forget about the mountain lion story. This gave my husband and I time to discover where the “most northwestern point of the lower 48 states” was located. As “Easterners,” after travelling all the way across the United States, we wanted to be able to say we experienced that edge of the country.

The park ranger suggested we hike the Cape Flattery Trail on the Makah Nation Reservation. The trail is only .7 miles. And luckily, we didn’t have a park ranger with us this time. Nor did we have a whole group of other adventurers and families. Because our children wanted to be, um, children.

Cape Flattery Trail consists of mostly wooden planks and it overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The trail is both majestic and breath-taking. Numerous shades of blue and green fill the Pacific. Huge rock islands dot the ocean edge. Puffins, osprey, and sea lions rest peacefully along its shore. 
The glorious Pacific Coast at
Cape Flattery Trail.

But back to my kids acting like, well, kids. Our children—yes even the teenagers; in fact it was my older daughter who started this. The children decided to imitate King Arthur in the film MontyPython and the Holy Grail as he galloped through the forest and across the moor. Yes, my children “galloped,” a one-sided skip really, across the planks of the Cape Flattery Trail. With all five of them one-sided skipping, it did sound like the guy who followed King Arthur in the movie, clopping coconuts together to imitate the horses’ hooves on the ground.

My husband looked at me. “Don’t you dare.” He said.
“Who me?” A smile tugged at my lips. I guess I better not. At least we didn’t know anyone out here, I thought as we continued our hike back to the van, children clopping the whole way.

I think vacations are for letting loose and enjoying ourselves, even if we want to imitate riding a horse when we’re not. Have you ever done something silly while on vacation or away from home? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section. We truly appreciate your note.

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Rain Forest in the United States? Are You Crazy, Mom?

            Okay, so the children thought my husband and I were crazy one evening in the camper when we said we would visit a rain forest the next day.

            “Mom,” our second daughter—the Brainiac—informed me from her perch on the bunk.  “We are in the northern half of the continental U. S.”

            “Yea, Washington State,” our son clarified from his burrow on the dinette seat cushions.

Olympic Nat'l Park in Washington
State is vast. Not many inroads.
Need to drive to trailheads.
Like we didn’t know where we were after driving almost 3,000 miles across the whole United States from New Jersey.

            “Yes,” I said, “but this particular rain forest is actually in Washington State.”

            My husband burst out laughing after a few moments. When I glared at him, he nodded toward the children. They were giving me that “poor, silly mom” look I get whenever I ask a computer question.

A grin creased my face. Just wait until tomorrow, my angels. Then we’ll see who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. 
Temperate rain forest of the Hoh River
           in Olympic National Park.

            The Hoh Rain Forest is part of the huge Olympic National Park system in Washington State. We like to take part in the park ranger programs after watching the informative video at the Visitor’s Center. On our Hall of Mosses ranger-led hike into the rain forest, a 0.8 mile loop, we not only heard facts about the rain forest, we discovered how to identify a huge tree from a legend.

            The Hoh Rain Forest is a temperate rainforest, one of the finest left in the Pacific Northwest rainforest region. I didn’t realize that there were two kinds of rain forests. The children were thinking of the tropical rain forests by the equator that they had learned about in school. I must admit; I didn’t know our U.S. rain forest was of the temperate kind, which means it’s not as hot and steamy as the tropical kind. I was happy about this. I was envisioning the sweltering kind myself when my husband and I first talked about visiting Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh Rain Forest can get up to 14 feet of rain a year. My bones started aching just from the thought of all that rain! Amazingly, we had a dry hike. Temperate rainforests don’t get extremely hot or extremely cold for very long.

We hiked through a dense forest of deciduous [leaf-bearing] and coniferous [evergreen] trees. Our United States rain forest just dripped in moss and broad leaves and huge ferns. These big trees with their leaves and pine needles trap the moisture coming inland from the coast. As we stopped by yet another huge conifer tree, a Douglas fir, our ranger offered some facts about it.

“These fir trees can grow about 535 inches in circumference,” the park ranger told us. “And scrape the sky at 213 feet high.”

A smile tugged at my lips. I covered it with my hand. I didn’t feel it was right to remind the ranger—for I was sure he knew—that the Sequoia and Redwood trees in California were taller and larger in circumference. My husband saw my smile and elbowed me. He probably knew what I was thinking.

I’m supposed to learn something new wherever I go, I told myself. So listen. I did, and discovered something unique about these huge trees. 

“The Douglas fir pine cone has a strange story.” The park ranger looked at us. “Legend has it that at one time you could find hundreds of mice scurrying about in the rain forest.”
“Mice?” I whispered to my husband. He shushed me.

“Long, long ago,” the ranger began. “There lived a tiny mouse in the forest. This mouse loved the huge pine forest out west as did his many relatives. But they all were fearful day and night, for the sly fox always tried to catch them and gobble them up.
“Now this particular mouse was very clever, though, and was able to hide from the fox for a long, long time. But one day, the mouse’s attention wandered as he walked among the huge Douglas fir trees in the forest. Before he knew it, the fox had snuck up on him and he was face to face with his enemy!
“The mouse was terrified and ran off as fast as he could. But he knew the fox was faster and much bigger than he was. Frantically the mouse searched for a place to hide. Then he spied a Douglas fir pine cone hanging on a tall tree. The mouse thought it was large enough to hide him, so he scurried up the tree and tried to squeeze inside the cone.”

The ranger had us all wide-eyed and concerned for this poor little mouse.

“Well,” the ranger continued. “The mouse was hidden well enough that the fox couldn't find him.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, not realizing that I didn’t want to hear a story—or legend—about a fox devouring a tiny mouse.

“But,” the ranger said as he picked up one of the Douglas fir pine cones from the rain forest floor. “The pine cone really was way too small for the mouse.” He showed everyone the cone.
To this day, those little
mice still scurry under
the scales of a
Douglas fir pine cone.

“And to this day, you can still see the hind legs and tail of the mouse sticking out from the Douglas fir pine cone, where he is still hiding from the fox.”

Not only did we learn a lot about rain forests, when we visited Hoh Rain Forest, we now know how to identify a Douglas fir evergreen, or coniferous tree. Although our Douglas firs on the East Coast don’t get as big as the ones out west, we still find a few mouse tail cones here in New Jersey. Do you have any Douglas fir trees where you live? Just look for the back end of a mouse hanging out of the pine cones.

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. We’d love to hear any nature legends you may have learned or hear about your visit to a national park in the comments section. We truly appreciate your note.