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Nature's rockier road has rewards

Okay, I'm going to go out on a limb. I am going to predict that this will be, environmentally, the most idyllic weekend of the winter. I make this prediction despite the fact that every time I mention the weather, something icky happens. Some of the meanest mail I've ever received had to do with something I said about the weather. And the last time I noticed a change of season, I said we could put away our umbrellas. It rained for four straight days, some kind of record.

The guys in the newsroom would not let me forget it.

But I don't care. If I can get outside this weekend, which I fully plan to do, I know I'll have balmy temperatures. Cool mornings and warm middays. I'll be watching flocks of red-breasted robins - the original Florida snowbirds - while I smell the intoxicating perfume of orange blossoms and enjoy the spectacle of masses of azaleas in bloom in shades of fuchsia, pink and white.

As much as I love nature, I seem to have fallen short somewhere in

instilling that love in my children.

In fact, children of this era seem to be so full of the notion that fun and discovery are created for them - a la Disney World and Great Explorations and the Museum of Science and Industry - that they can't always see it any other way.

Some months ago my family drove to the Ocala National Forest to take a five-hour canoe trip (four hours for those who knew what they were doing) through Juniper Springs.

This is a beautiful, comparatively wild stretch of forest, and the stream meanders beneath overhanging and fallen tree trunks, many of them so low that we had to lie down in the canoe to slide underneath.

There were rocks on which we ran aground and stayed pinned by the current. Thick grasses we traversed by poling more than paddling.

Tricky, all in all.

After we'd had to dodge and duck and push off for about an hour's worth of trees, Ellen, 6, said a little testily, "Why did they put all this stuff in here, anyway?"

I realized she thought someone had set all this up, like a ride at Disney or an exhibit at one of the museums.

"Nobody put this here," I told Ellen. "This is the way it is naturally. This is nature."

"Oh," she said thoughtfully.


My other daughter, Laura, 8, has at least a passing acquaintance with the outdoors. Some time back she brought home a paper that had in its middle several globs of red and yellow modeling clay. Stuck into this clay were seed-laden sprigs of grass and weeds.

Laura said she and a friend had created this wonder, which the friend labeled "Weed Eragment."

Not bad, but I couldn't help but make a mental comparison to the "weed arrangements" I find on their socks after a day at large in the Florida landscape.

So enjoy your weekend. Stay out of those shopping malls and get some fresh air. And if it should rain, I don't want to hear about it.