Last weekend I ran on the frozen Seine River. Because of the rumours of wildlife along this twisting urban waterway, I kept my camera (the kind that also makes phone calls) handy.
Sure enough, within the first couple kilometres I’d chased up a fox, later a small herd of friendly whitetails. And at about the point where I was thinking about turning around, I found what I’d really been hoping for: an owl. And not just an owl, but an owl still clutching its furry, four-legged catch from the night’s hunt in its sleepy claws.
I carefully tiptoed through the snow to get the best close-up I could through the branches.
I treat these encounters with all the importance of an intrepid explorer, documenting my findings to report back to the homeland. The monarch in my homeland is, of course, my children, and I take seriously the responsibility of bringing back from afar reports of every furry beast who wanders across my path while I’m out away in far-off lands.
As I was chuckling about this parental instinct, to bring home cool things to show your kids, on the river trail, I realized it was in my DNA.
When I was young, my dad would go on frequent fishing and hunting trips with his friends. Flipping through old photos, the feelings of excitement come right back. The moment the truck would pull into the driveway and we’d run out to see what Dad had brought home.
Sometimes a stringer full of fish. Other times, a big (or not so big) buck.
Old photos show me (up waaaaay too late for my age) beside the big catch.
I might not have appreciated it then, but I’m sure this welcome was a highlight for Dad and his friends, seeing the kids with their large and curious, if not sleepy, eyes.
Upon further reflection, I now realize my mom also had this homecoming show-and-tell tradition, but somehow the “treasures” she found while out shopping didn’t hold the same allure for my young mind…
Recognizing this deeply-engrained fatherly duty, whenever I venture out, whether before our weekday breakfast or on a longer weekend excursion, I keep my eyes and ears open, finger on the shutter, to document and bring home interesting things. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I run trails is to bring cool treasures and stories home for the kids.
Last year’s highlight was stumbling upon a deer’s shed antler. Is there anything more pleasing to a parent’s ears than their child beaming with pride at what they’ll be able to tell their own friends at school the next day?
I’ve also brought home a deer’s jaw bone, stories of bear and wolf sightings (stories which have the potential for further embellishment over the years before they hit the ears of grandkids…), and photos of everything from porcupines to twisted-brain-like mushrooms, cool rocks to strange animal droppings.
I’m not sure why this instinct exists. Maybe, like in grade school, I’m still hoping to impress the coolest kids I know. Or maybe seeing a child’s curiosity and wonder is simply so entirely addicting, it’s better than actually finding something interesting for myself. It is true, after all, the best things get better when they’re shared.
My kids happened to be at my parents’ place when I saw the owl. I immediately sent the photo to my dad, texting, “Do you see what I see?” And I imagined my kids, probably still in their pajamas, peering into grandpa’s phone screen to make out the silhouette in the branches, feeling all the satisfaction of another successful expedition, shared once again.