We left our camp and walked down the trail. We didn't know where we were going or what we would find. We were just glad to be in the woods. Or so I thought.
It was October. Jeremy, my five year old son, and I were camping with the Girl Scouts at Camp Tarheelia. They took us along for security since no other scout troop would be in camp that weekend. Jeremy and I stayed in a tent in the woods and the girls and their leaders (including my wife) stayed in the cabin up the path. While the girls were busy with troop activities, Jeremy and I went hiking in the woods.
We walked for 30 minutes when the woods opened up before us into a field of tall grasses. In the middle was a pond.
"Come on, Jeremy."
"Where are we going", he asked.
"To the pond."
"How do we get there?"
"Through the grass."
Jeremy's eyes grew large and he shook his head. I looked at the grass and realized it would be over his head.
"Follow right behind me," I said. "I'll mash the grass down as I go."
I walked ahead. A few feet into the grass I looked back. Jeremy had not followed.
"Daddy, let's go back to camp."
"No, don't you want to see the pond. There might be some ducks on it."
He walked a little way into the path I had made, looking to his left, then to his right, his eyes wide. We walked like that for about 100 yards and finally made our way to the pond. Below us, at the edge of the water, were wild cattails.
"See the cattails, Jeremy?"
"Are there wildcats in there?"
"No, cattails are plants that grow in the water of a pond. Here, I'll show you."
I climbed down to the water's edge and reached for a cattail. Jeremy lost sight of me. "Daddy!" he screamed.
"I'm down here, Jeremy."
"Where, I can't see you. Hurry, I hear noises."
I listened. There was a strange noise coming from the pond. I parted the cattails and looked out onto the water. In the distance was a large, solid black swan with a brilliant red beak. I stood mesmerized by its beauty. It looked at me and hissed.
"What was that noise?" asked Jeremy. "Let's go back to camp."
"It's a swan, Jeremy". I cut a cattail, then went back to Jeremy.
"What's a swan?"
"I'll show you."
We walked around the pond to the opposite side of a field overgrown with wildflowers of all colors. Jeremy saw barn in the distance.
"Does this land belong to a farmer?" he asked.
"Let's go back to camp. In Peter Rabbit, a farmer chased him with a hoe for coming into his garden."
"This is a nice farmer and we aren't rabbits."
We walked to a clearing to watch the swan. After a few minutes, Jeremy asked, "When are we going back to camp?"
Jeremy led the way, running ahead of me through the field, through the grass and up the trail to our tent. That night, all the Girl Scouts, the leaders and Jeremy and I sat around the campfire that Jeremy helped me build.
Jeremy showed the girls his cattail.
"What's that?" they asked. "Where did you get it?' "We want one."
"Me and Daddy, we found it at the pond."
"A pond! Where's the pond?"
"Only Daddy and me know how to get there. And there's a black swan on it with a red mouth."
"A black swan!" they screamed. "You've got to take us there tomorrow and show us. Will you, Jeremy?'
"Yeah. But you have to be careful because you have to walk in the farmer's field."
"We'll be careful. Will you show us where the cattails are?"
"Yes, but you can only have just one."
The girls went up the path to the cabin and left Jeremy and me by the fire. The fire crackled and sputtered and the firelight reflected in Jeremy's eyes.
"Do you think the black swan will be there tomorrow when we go back?" he asked.
"Yes, he lives there."
"I'll show them where he lives and how to walk through the grass. And then I will help you cut some cattails for them." said Jeremy.
The fire began to die down. "Daddy, I can't wait for tomorrow."
In the dim light, Jeremy looked suddenly older. And I threw more wood on the fire, wishing the night would last forever.