It was girls-only time here at Orange Pond last weekend. Jim and Virgil left early Saturday morning for Virgil’s first overnight fishing trip, heading up to Maine with two of Jim’s longtime fishing buddies. Ursula had just come home herself from an overnight trip, a three-day outdoor program with her middle school. She extracted a promise from me that we wouldn’t even set foot in the car on Saturday.

The day itself was a perfect pause — no longer summer’s heat and haze, not quite the crisp coolness of true autumn, just clear blue skies and enough warmth to pull on shorts and a T-shirt without thinking. At first, Ursula and I went our separate ways, puttering. After a while, she came in and asked me to help her find materials for a slack line (like a tightrope, except mere inches off the ground, and loose — slack). I gathered that she’d tried a slack line at the outdoor center during her three days there, although circus camp over the summer may have played a role, too.

We dug around in my old climbing gear to find several lengths of webbing, and I taught her how to tie the ends together using a water knot. Then she wandered off, webbing and ropes in hand. An hour or so later, she came and found me again, and led me outside to a stand of trees where she’d set up the line. She slid back and forth on the one-inch-wide strand of webbing, arms outstretched, graceful, intent, happy.

We slid into the afternoon. I was in my office, cleaning and organizing in the bright sunlight, windows open. I kept hearing an irregular squeaking noise. At first I took it as the sound of some bird or other animal, but eventually I stopped my rustling and listened: squeak, squeak, like a door opening and closing on slightly rusty hinges. I looked out my back window and down onto Ursula in the hammock, reading a book. Every couple of seconds, she pushed off the ground with one leg, gently swaying the hammock.

Still later we walked together up the road. Ursula dipped into the woods for some solo exploration. We watched the loons on the pond, sharing a pair of binoculars. We didn’t go back inside the house until the sun had dropped completely below the hill behind the house.

Jim and I sometimes think that Ursula needs more unstructured time than we can give her. I could see how much she’d enjoyed the way the day had unfolded organically, with so much of it spent outside. She exuded contentment and ease, and pride, too, for having figured out the slack line all by herself. The day felt nearly perfect, and just exactly what she needed. I thought of Jim and Virgil, bedded down at the fishing camp up north, and hoped their day was just as glorious.

Learn more
For more information on slack lines, see Set Up a Slackline.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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