Getting Out of the House With a Toddler - Witherspoon Woods, Princeton, NJ

Climbing big, flat diabase boulders made us both smile.

Witherspoon Woods, a trail on the Princeton Ridge for the rugged, experienced toddler who likes rocks, boulders, sticks, and patches of challenging trail. It is also a trail for the botanically discerning Momma who does not like to see all the native plants browsed by deer. Despite the terrain, my son walked at a quite a clip, leaving little time for me to photograph.

Witherspoon Woods, ash seedling regeneration at the trailhead speaks of a deer management program that is working well. I'll be back to observe the spring wildflowers.

Further along the trail, more ash regeneration beneath a white oak. Now, the deer population must be lowered further to allow slower growing and deer-preferred species like white oak to regenerate. Reduced deer-vehicle collisions, Lyme disease cases, and browse of horticultural plantings and less-preferred native species are the first good signs. Now, we need to keep the pressure on deer management to observe the next good signs: return of the understory shrubs like maple leaf viburnum and pinxter azalea and forest herbs like showy orchid and bellwort.

My son has learned the following requests since our last outing:

Follow Momma.
Back on the trail.
This way.
[That stick is] too big.
Multiflora rose.

Momma follows baby. She attempts to monitor baby, make photographs, and considerately carry the tall walking stick her son bequeathed to her.

I'm able to maintain a chirping, sing-song voice learned in my year as a Waldorf School of Princeton classroom assistant, now that I have to repeat the above requests once or twice. My son gets "multiflora rose" with no help from me.

The start of the trail appears to be post-agricultural. The young trees, flat land, minimal canopy diversity and stone row tell that story.

A former quarry(?) site along the trail. Splitting pins(?) remain the in the diabase. 

We weaved our way over and between boulders and dragged sticks from the trailside. When we reached a particularly confusing trail junction we paused for our second snack. 

I fed my son broccoli. My son fed me almonds, and then himself one without my noticing until the next broccoli floret was delivered. He was ready for a nap and did not appreciate an index finger probing his mouth. After the almond was ejected, we worked on nap time and my son fell asleep in my arms.

Already bulky with a backpack and wool jacket on, I didn't dare stuff him into the Ergo Baby carrier dangling from my waist. He became heavy very quickly, so I trotted down the trail until reaching another trail junction - all trails in all directions were marked with yellow blazes.

I hewed left and recognized a fallen and resprouting flowering dogwood, a triumph in the deer ravaged Princeton area.

If for no other reason, having botanical interests can help in trail orientation. I recall an acquaintance telling of two hikers lost calling in for help via cell phone. "What do you see around you?" they were asked. "Trees," they replied. Luckily, they were found.

About halfway back, a hiker with two dogs approached. The dogs began to bark hysterically and strain at their leashes.

"Do you have a dog?" she hollered.

"No, I have a baby. A baby that was asleep."

"Oh, ok."

Not ok, I thought, as I rushed past her barking hounds. My son stared with bleary eyes. The parking lot was visible. As we neared, my son became proportionally heavier. Back at our car, my son was happy to explore the parking lot and the car.

I thought we had walked further than we actually did. The return trip was much quicker with my son asleep in my arms.