Cucumber Gap Loop inspires parental guidance

Cucumber Gap Loop inspires parental guidance

By Karek Key

I had just come off of a really bad and frustrating weekend of parenting. It was Labor Day, and we had way too many plans and stretched ourselves way too thin. After a lot of stimulation and not enough sleep, it all exploded on Monday. Whining, tears and mysteriously vanished listening skills all resulted in me overreacting and yelling. All in all, we were not at our best selves.

Violet, my seven-year-old, has BIG feelings. I do too, so I know where she gets it, but my temporal lobe is developed enough to know how to handle them without weeping in the middle of a restaurant. We have been working on tools to feel those big emotions, just manage them a little bit better.

Fast forward to Wednesday. I signed up to attend a work training opportunity with professional guide and naturalist Liz Domingue, owner and operator of Just Get Outdoors. Six other GSMA employees and I were scheduled to hike Cucumber Gap Loop, which is nice because there are not too many loop trails in the park. I’d done it before, and I was excited to get paid to be outside for the day.

A few steps in took us to a huge buckeye tree, where Liz picked up a buckeye seed. I recognized this by the yummy treats Kelli Green, our human resources manager, makes us each year for Christmas. Our fearless leader explained that Native Americans used these seeds as a worry stone. They’d keep them in their pockets and rub them for relaxation and to relieve anxiety.

There it was. Kismet. Mother nature (with the help of Liz) had presented me with a new tool for Violet!

We learned a lot of other things on this hike, too. For instance, you can identify a sycamore tree because the bark chips off at the top and appears to be “sick” and that the Carolina Silverbelltrees can be identified by their dark shingles-looking bark. You can pop and eat the seeds on orange and yellow jewelweed. A ton of stuff in the Smokies is named for the scientist John Fraser, and Fraser magnolia leaves have earlobes. Salamanders breathe through their skin.

It was great to learn all these fascinating tidbits from the natural world, but I couldn’t stop smiling thinking about how I was going to put a buckeye in Violet’s pocket every day!


To learn more involving your children in nature, click HERE.

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