Sunday, November 13, 2011

Celebrating Fall with a Leaf Ride

The thought of months of darkness and rain ahead of us is scary. This time of year is always about saying goodbye to summer, to sunny days and swims in the lake, riding across town in shorts and a t-shirt and hanging laundry out in the sun to dry with that wonderful outdoor smell. But autumn is also one of the most beautiful times of the year in our town. We live in a confluence of climactic zones that basically lets almost any tree alive grow here. We have everything from palm trees to evergreens to a thousand different kinds of deciduous trees, all dropping their leaves by the barrel right now.

The kids and I have had a tradition of going on a "Leaf Ride" - we pick a dry day when the leaves are starting to pile up and we ride around town going through the biggest piles we can find. Sometimes we're biking along up to our knees in leaves, with their dry crackly sound and that autumny smell. It's a fun way to welcome this season of transition, and get out on our bikes while the weather is still beautiful (if a bit colder than the summer months). Encouraging our kids to be cyclists is a big priority for us, and making it fun with an outing (which ended up downtown with an impromptu picnic) keeps them enjoying it as a fun activity that only incidentally is great exercise, self-sufficient transportation, and sustainably-fueled to boot!

As a parent, it's all too easy to let fear keep our kids from being as independent as we were when we were their age. Most of us biked or walked all over town, didn't we? In 1972, the year I started 1st grade, nearly 90% of all school kids who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked to school. Now the school drop-off lines are long and filled with the exhaust fumes of idling cars dropping off their kids one at a time. Yet the things parents are most afraid of: kidnappings or violent crimes against children, and pedestrian or bicycle-related accidents, have actually fallen dramatically percentage-wise in the last thirty years. We are simply more afraid of them, even though we have less reason to be. And sadly, 50% of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by the parents of other students! Clearly, the more kids that bike and walk and the less that are driven around by harried minivan moms (the most dangerous drivers on the road at 3:00 for sure), the safer our kids will be.

So as our kids bike themselves to classes and activities, and I bike myself into a lather doing intervals and time trials, it's nice to occasionally just take some time out to enjoy ourselves on a beautiful fall day with some big piles of crunchy fun. This last photo is from our Leaf Ride four years ago, and it reminds me of how much the kids have grown and how fleeting this time with them is. The difference between my 8 year old girlie in this photo and the 12 year old young lady in the photo above just blows my mind. Never mind that my son is now way taller than I am, and no longer the peewee chasing his little sis like he was in this photo. I don't know how many more autumn days they'll go for leaf rides with me in the coming years, but I'm going to enjoy every one I can.

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