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Tawn Talk: Don't be afraid to get dirty; you just might have fun, learn things

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Tawnya Panizzi

I'm not really the outdoorsy type.

Sure I love to toss the Frisbee around the park and I happily plop down for hours in the grass at the neighborhood ball fields.

And it's not that I'm afraid to get dirty, because I plant a doozy of a flower garden every year. By the time I've dug, planted, weeded and watered, it looks like I've crawled right out of the earth myself.

No, I'm just saying that when it comes to the hardcore stuff like pitchin' a tent, you'd probably more often find me at Macy's than down at the local fishing hole.

That may have all changed this week.

I was fortunate enough to chaperone my daughter's second-grade field trip to Camp Lutherlyn, a 660-acre conservation sanctuary in Butler where the mission is to showcase the wonders of the environment.

On a typical day, kids are splashing through the creek in search of critters or hiking through the forest in hopes of spotting a deer or something more exotic.

Going in, my intentions were selfish. I just wanted to spend some time with my daughter and get a glimpse into the second-grade world.

If I had to get dirty, so be it.

We loaded the big yellow bus at Fairmount Elementary, 100 eight-year olds and a handful of game parents, and before I had a chance to choose a seat a little girl looked up at me and asked if I wanted to sit with her.

“Of course,” I said, and settled in for the bumpy ride.

The kids were giddy and silly and loud — practically bouncing out of their seats — but it was heartwarming to see how excited they were. It was an important lesson that's often lost on adults — enjoy even the littlest pleasures.

When we got close to camp, the little girl beside me gave me a hug and said “Thanks for sitting with me.

“Nobody usually wants to.”

I pushed back the sudden lump in my throat and told her truthfully, “It was my pleasure.”

Bam, just like that, I had already gotten more than I bargained for on this trip.

For giving nothing more than my time, I had made someone's day. And the official field trip hadn't even begun.

We split into groups to explore the adventures that Camp Lutherlyn had waiting for us. Our group trekked down a wooded hillside to the stream where we used old Cool Whip containers — very scientific — to catch Mayflies, crayfish and any other tiny, slimy creatures that we found after peeking under rocks and brush.

The kids hit the site like mini-Indiana Jones' on a great adventure. They flipped rocks and squished through mud and used long twigs to lift piles of leaves along the creek bed.

And they squealed the entire time.

“I got something! I got something!”

It didn't matter if it was no bigger than a speck of dust, if it wiggled when they put it in their bowl, they ran to show us adults and we were quick to take pleasure in their pride.

The day's big hit came when a group of about five kids surrounded a hapless crayfish that swam to no avail under sticks and rocks in the shallow stream. They stood in a small circle above the fish, all holding their plastic bowls ready to swoop in.

When they finally caught the tiny lobster-lookalike, you'd have thought they brought in a bear.

In that short time by the stream, I was reminded that you never get that joy of discovery if you're too uptight to look under a muddy rock. Get dirty for no reason, make memories and then go home and take a shower. It's way more important to live and have fun than stand on the sidelines.

The second half of our day was spent hiking through the forests and fields, where counselors pointed out fox holes, maple sugar shacks, deer tracks and antler marks.

The educators took the opportunity to teach us about food chains and the importance of every plant and animal's role. Bugs eat plants, fish eat bugs, birds eat fish, raccoons eat fish.

“My dad says that raccoons like to eat our garbage,” one little boy interrupted. At that, all the adults laughed and it reminded me of one more thing, to be free and honest with your thoughts. Adults are guarded for fear they'll get laughed at but kids say it like it is and that's refreshing.

When it was time to go, we boarded the bus and lots of the kids somehow fell asleep in those uncomfortable narrow seats. They ran themselves ragged. They had so much fun, they couldn't keep their eyes open. And there was the final lesson for me — be present. Enjoy the small moments in my day-to-day routine as much as the big ones. And be willing to get dirty.

You can't make finger paintings or wear silly make-up or catch crayfish without doing so.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer with Trib Total Media.

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