Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Packing Green School Lunches

Last year as the school year was starting, I wrote about my conversion to “green” lunches. We’d been buying local and organic fruit and vegetables for some time; the change of heart was more about how we wrapped, bottled, and containered Ursula’s and Virgil’s lunches. After gentle prodding from Jim, who as chief lunch-packer and bottle washer had been pushing for safer and more environmentally sound school lunches for the kids, I bought recycled lunch boxes, stainless steel containers, and reusable snack bags before the start of last school year.

A year later, I can say that our purchases have held up well. In fact, Ursula will again use her lunch box made of recycled juice boxes. Only one of the cloth snack bags disappeared over the school year, and the stainless steel containers were a huge hit.

Now that I think about it, what I should really say isn’t that I had a change of heart but that I finally stiffened my spine. When I wrote about last year’s purchases, I confessed to not wanting to know about chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and PBDEs. Once I was aware of their role as endocrine disruptors — in fish and other wildlife as well as in humans — I started to realize how pervasive they are. And in knowing more, our actions continued to change. A study I came upon later in the year identified the kids’ favorite soups as especially high in BPA. We started making our own soups. I learned that Maine had banned the use of plastic pallets because of concerns about food contamination by the PBDE form called DECA. We became even more careful about washing all produce and fruits.

For this school year, we’re trying not to use plastics or containers coated with toxic chemicals for any of our children’s lunches. We’ve disposed of most of our plastic storage containers and have added glass containers to the stainless steel ones.

Currently six states have banned BPA from baby bottles and baby toys. (And Denmark earlier this summer became the most recent country to enact a ban.) Legislation to ban BPA from children’s food and drinks has been introduced in the Senate. This bill replaces an earlier proposal to ban BPA from all food and drink packaging, which was pulled after intensive lobbying by industry groups.

I shouldn’t have to distrust our food safety system and our manufacturing. But until I have a better sense that the companies that supply so many of our household products care about the longterm health of my children, I’ll continue to follow the news and purchase their lunch supplies very carefully.

Learn more

• “Going Green Back to School” (2009)
• I found Ursula’s recycled lunch box, Virgil’s cotton lunch bag, and other lunch supplies at reuseit.com.
• Vermont, Connecticut, and New York have banned BPA in certain products, including children’s bottles and toys. A bill currently being debated in Maine could result in BPA being phased out in products for use by children.

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

Going Green Back to School

As an outdoors family, we care about the health of our environment — from the plants, animals, and natural features just outside our front door to those that we occasionally visit or only read about. Over the last several years, we’ve tried to make our daily habits correspond to that care. And that includes our back-to-school shopping.

I’ve recently come upon two useful documents for back-to-school planning and shopping. The Environmental Protection Agency has put together common-sense general guidelines that save the environment and save money. (Families are expected to spend an average of $606 on back-to-school purchases this year, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.) Some of the EPA’s recommendations:

• Don’t automatically buy new. Can a child reuse last year’s backpack, binder, or pencil pouch?
• When you do buy, choose products that are made from recycled materials, such as pencils made from old blue jeans and binders made from old shipping boxes.
• Buy products with minimal packaging or that come in bulk sizes. Packaging accounts for more than 30 percent of all the waste generated each year.
• If you’re buying electronics, looks for the Energy Star logo, which means that the computer or gadget meets strict efficiency guidelines set by the EPA.

The other document is a fantastically detailed booklet from the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (founded by Lois Gibbs in 1981 after her activism prompted one of the nation’s first toxic chemical clean-ups at Love Canal) for purchasing PVC-free school supplies.

What’s PVC, and why should we avoid it? The short answer is that both the manufacturing process for this ubiquitous plastic and its incineration in landfills (or just heating it in a microwave or on the stove) releases a group of chemicals called dioxins, which are known to be toxic to humans and to wildlife. In addition, phthalates are often added to PVC products to soften them. These plastics additives have been banned from baby toys and bottles, but not from other children’s products. More than 90 percent of all phthalates are used in PVC plastics.

The 17-page booklet, available online along with a shorter guide, offers specific tips for avoiding PVC school supplies and a detailed list of manufacturers that offer PVC-free alternatives. Some of the tips:

• Avoid products with the 3-arrow recycling symbol with the number 3 or initials PVC, which indicates that the product is made with PVC.
• Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC.
• Avoid metal encased in colorful plastic, like the binder clips and paper clips in bright colors, alas. These usually contain PVC.

Next up: Packing Green School Lunches.

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Season's End

Now that I’ve made the case for summer, it’s time to say good-bye to it.

Regardless of what the calendar says, summer ends for children and their families on the first day of school. No matter whether school starts in mid-August or whether September days are just as hot and steamy as they were at summer’s peak — when days are once again bound by schedule, and homework, and carpools or buses, it’s fall.

The next few posts look ahead to the new school year. Some offer advice for “going green” with school supplies. Then I turn to what’s new with the growing “safe routes to school” movement. Later on, I’ll take a look at the latest thinking in playground design, through an innovative natural play space created this summer at an elementary and middle school in the Upper Connecticut River Valley.

Of course, being outdoors is a year-round proposition, whether school is in session or not. So following this short series, look for the best places to hike during foliage season, 52 peaks with a view (all below 4,000 feet, and all in the White Mountains), and more!

If you’re already back on school routines, welcome to fall. If you’re still a day or more away – enjoy these precious few last hours of summer.

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Case for Summer Vacation

I’m trying to catch up on summer reading before the season ends, and just finished reading the cover story in an issue of TIME magazine that I picked up earlier this month. The cover first caught my eye: A shirtless boy in a baseball cap skipping a stone across a pond, rendered in a retro, Norman Rockwell style. But it was the headline that made me buy the magazine. In bold black type across the top of the image, it said, “The Case Against Summer Vacation.”

The article, by David von Drehle, claims that Americans romanticize a lengthy summer break that has its roots in our country’s agrarian past. In our imaginations, summertime for children means day after day off the clock. It means the freedom to let minds roam — and bodies, too, from stream to seaside to forest and lake. In this idyllic summer world, every child spends hours outside, reads dozens of books, plays games with cousins and grandparents, daydreams, invents, travels, explores.

The reality, von Drehle convincingly argues, is that for many children, summer isn’t a time of enrichment but a time of loss — learning loss. On average, American children lose one month of progress in math skills from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next; for children from low-income families, the “summer slide” can mean slipping back three months in reading comprehension, compared with their middle-income peers.

By the time such disadvantaged children complete elementary school, they have fallen three grade levels behind, according to a 20-year study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Roughly two-thirds of that achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss.

But this achievement gap doesn’t make “the case against summer vacation.” It makes the case against wasted vacations. The article describes children who spend their summer breaks on virtual house arrest — cooped up indoors in unsafe neighborhoods, unsupervised by adults — or in communities with shockingly few resources for children. Enrichment programs can close the gap, von Drehle says, and he profiles several successful ones around the country.

Unfortunately, the headline and a simplified version of the article, which can be summarized as “Our children are falling behind academically because we insist on holding onto a summer break that has no place in modern America,” is now making the rounds.

When I look closely at some of the data included in the article, I come to a different set of questions and conclusions. In a graph charting “The Summer Slide,” I notice that the slope of achievement steepens for children from high-income families in the summer between third and fourth grade, and again the following summer. It’s actually higher during the summer months than during the school year.

Shouldn’t we be asking, then, What is it that high-income kids get that other kids don’t? And how do we make those things available to all children?

The TIME article offers a partial answer to both questions. Privileged children get enrichment during the summer months in numerous forms, from sleepaway camps to family vacations (although fewer families spend entire summers at a cottage than in previous generations). As for how to bring a version of summer to all children, under the heading “Stealth Learning,” von Drehle profiles a program in the Appalachian town of Corbin, Kentucky. Every Wednesday, Redhound Enrichment takes the children in its program to the swimming pool. They also go fishing, and when they weigh and measure their fish, they’re doing a day’s worth of math. Nearly 9 in 10 of the kids come from latchkey families. By the time school starts again, more than half of the kids improve in math by a full letter grade, or more. Interestingly, even though the program doesn’t explicitly offer reading instruction, the children also improve similarly in reading.

I’ve often written in this space about the growing body of research on the value of time in nature, down time, unplugged time, even boredom. The case for summer vacation is the case for spending time outside, for self-directed reading, for learning new skills or practicing old ones.

My family is lucky to have time, economic wherewithal, and an understanding of the importance of those lessons. When I think of what my children have done with this summer break, I think of the long list of books Ursula has devoured, but also how trips we’ve taken have let her spread her wings, both in cities and in wilder country. I remember countless games of Stratego and Settlers of Catan that Virgil played, but also how much time he spent in the water and around our land, and how he backpacked even with his arm in a full cast.

This is the kind of stealth learning that actually improves academic achievement — and does something more that can’t be measured. In fact, I’d like to turn the debate about summer vacation around and say that the more pleasurable, enriching activities of summer we give our children, the better off they’ll all be.

Why not have the best of summer, year-round?

Learn more
- Read the TIME article.
- See the cover.
- Read a summary of the research on summer learning loss.

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hiking and the Holy Grail

A recent article in The New York Times described an unusual outdoors adventure: a week-long raft trip down the San Juan River in southern Utah undertaken by a group of neuroscientists to debate the effect of spending time “unplugged.” The skeptics in the group didn’t see much value in disconnecting from their electronic devices or from email and the web. Others saw value in stepping away from daily distractions. They wondered if our brains might look or act differently on the river or on a trail. The trip could be called a moving debate on the importance of vacations, especially vacations in the outdoors.

As it happens, I read the article a few days after it was published because we’d just returned from a three-day hiking trip. On the first day of our trip, Jim and the kids and I hiked several miles to a campsite next to a spring-fed lake and set up our tents. The next day, the four of us climbed a small peak; Virgil and I read on the summit while Jim and Ursula traversed to a second peak. Back at the lake, we swam in the cool water. We’d brought a pack of cards with us, and we played card games on a table-sized rock at the campsite. Virgil had finished his book at the summit, so I started reading to him from mine, an adventure story about a Viking set near the end of the first millennium.

It’s worth saying that Jim and I weren’t working, or taking phone calls, or doing chores around the house. When I took my place at the granite card table, my normal mental list, in which each item starts with Remember to ( … put laundry in dryer, call Mom, pay bills, start this, finish that), was gone. In its place was a single thought, not even a command, that I might characterize as Just be here.

During our three backcountry days, I reminded Jim of something our friend Whit once told us. Whit is the father of three daughters and an avid parent and outdoorsman. A few years back, in his pursuit of ever better parenting, he attended a lecture by Mary Pipher, Ph.D., best known for her book Reviving Ophelia. He passed on to us two simple pieces of advice from Pipher for conveying strong family values to children, and staying connected with them through adolescence: One, eat dinners together as a family; two, take family vacations.

Our hiking trip gave evidence to his point, and Pipher’s. We grew closer as a family during our time on the trail and in camp. We shared old stories and developed new ones. We made up dumb jokes and laughed together. Virgil completed his first real backpacking trek without any complaint and basked in our appreciation of his accomplishment. Ursula stepped out, both as a hiker and as a helper around camp. Our second day in, a family — parents, two-year-old daughter, grandmother — took the other campsite on the lake. Ursula walked the toddler back and forth between our two camps while the adults set up camp, giving her full attention to the little girl as she pointed out each pretty wildflower.

The scientists on the river trip were paying attention to the quality of our attention. In the Times article, one of them said, “Attention is the holy grail. Everything that you’re conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it.” The article mentioned new research on working memory that suggests we should be careful of cluttering it too much, and thereby lose our ability to focus, to pay attention.

When I read that quote, though, I thought of the attention we give our children. Parental attention does seem to me a kind of holy grail. I value our recent hiking trip for many reasons, but one of them is the better, more focused and clear attention I could give my children.

This morning, I went online looking for the advice from Mary Pipher that Whit had passed on to us. I found this in an interview:
“Three things that adults remember with the greatest pleasure from childhood: time outdoors, family meals, and family vacations. So my simplest advice to parents is, if you want your children to have happy memories, spend time outdoors with them, eat family meals together, and take them on vacation. And they'll have good memories of your family.”

From what I’ve seen in our own family, and from what those rafting neuroscientists may determine, good memories probably aren’t the only benefit.

Learn more
- “Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain” (The New York Times, August 15, 2010)
- Mary Pipher’s books and research on adolescence and family life.
- Virgil and I are still reading The Long Ships, a recently re-issued book by the Swedish author Frans Bengtsson. Read the review in The Christian Science Monitor.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

When it's hard to get the whole family outdoors

“I’m having trouble getting my family outdoors...”

A mother wrote this in a recent comment on the blog. She wanted to get her 3-year-old daughter outdoors more. But her husband is an indoors person and spends many hours at work. When he’s at home, her daughter wants to spend time with him.

It’s a common family situation: For many reasons — work, travel, illness, or simple lack of interest — getting a family outdoors becomes a one-parent effort. And that effort can feel overwhelming.

I know the feeling. When Ursula was a baby, Jim worked long days at a job 80 miles from our home. We were new to the area, and I didn’t know many other parents. Some days, “getting outdoors” meant a brief stop at a playground in between errands, naps, and meals. Gradually I found other moms who liked to be outside, too. We’re lucky to live near hiking trails, and it wasn’t hard to plan short day hikes. Even so, I look back and regret that we didn’t do more in the outdoors together as a family during that time.

More resources have become available over the past decade for parents who want to get their children, and themselves, outdoors. I’m always inspired by the Children and Nature Network, both by the stories of parents and communities and by the research that reminds me why it’s important to get my family outside. (Two articles currently on their website that caught my eye: Turning your backyard into a discovery zone; the benefits of outdoor play.) C&NN also maintains a database of parent-led nature clubs. I’ve run into parents who have found great support within these clubs.

I’m guessing that the mother who wrote that comment lives somewhere along the East Coast between Washington, D.C., and Maine, in which case she has access to the resources of AMC’s local and regional chapters. As part of its Vision 2020 initiative, AMC is focusing on helping families and children get outdoors.

What to do, though, when one parent is, as this mother wrote, “an indoors person” who’s “hard to budge”? It could be that this dad will join in on outdoors activities once he sees how much fun they are, and if he doesn’t have to stretch to organize them. But it could also be that spending time outdoors will become something that this mother shares with her daughter. Even if the father never budges from his chair or the computer screen, the mother and daughter will have gained a lifetime of benefits from being outside together.

Advice from other readers?

Learn more
- "Getting Children Outdoors" (AMC Outdoors, May/June 2010)
- AMC family trips and activities
- Children & Nature Network

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sea Kayaking with Children: 10 Tips and 10 Trips

From the sandy shores of Cape Cod to the rocky, island-filled coast of Maine, few outdoor activities are better suited for New England than sea kayaking. Touring coastlines and ponds by kayak has the potential to be a superb family experience, as well, whether as part of a guided day-trip or as a regular activity.

As nature photographers and the authors of Discover Southern New Hampshire and Discover Acadia National Park, Jerry and Marcy Monkman know the special appeal of a water's-eye view. And as the parents of two children, they also understand the pleasure of sharing that perspective with youngsters. Michael O'Connor, author of Discover Cape Cod, agrees that paddling together as a family can be "an absolutely delightful experience."

Part of the trick to planning successful family kayak trips, according to these AMC authors, is knowing what to do; the other is knowing where to go. "What to do" includes boat handling, navigation, and water safety skills—information that takes time to develop. For that reason, O'Connor and the Monkmans urge novice paddlers to acquire a strong foundation of skills and experience before taking children on the water. Families can also sign up for guided tours offered by experienced outfitters.

Ten Tips for Starting Out
• Parents should know basic paddling strokes, be able to read tide charts and nautical charts, and know how to get an overboard child back into a boat while on the water.
Wear a PFD (personal flotation device) at all times. (In many states, children under 12 are required by law to wear PFDs.)
• Be aware of water temperature. Especially in the colder waters off the coast of Maine, hypothermia can set in within minutes.
• Keep track of weather. Know in advance the detailed, local forecast, and avoid trips when there are high wind or surf advisories.
• Keep close to shore, especially if you don't have strong navigation skills.
• Be aware of tides and strong currents. If you plan your trips for the two or three hours around high tide, tidal rivers can offer very pretty, easy meandering, without grounding you or requiring difficult trudges through mudflats.
• Try a double kayak. Double kayaks, somewhat like tandem bicycles, allow parent and child to be in the same boat. Some two-seat kayaks have a cargo hatch between the seats that can double as a child's seat. By the age of 12, children are generally big enough to master a double-bladed kayak paddle. Younger children can help a little, but adults should be prepared to provide most of the muscle.
• If a kayak has a spray skirt, check that young paddlers are strong enough to release the ripcord that holds it, and can quickly exit the boat if it capsizes. Nylon skirts require less power to release than those made of neoprene.
Be prepared with plenty of water, food, hats, sunglasses, bug spray, and sunscreen. A day on the water constantly exposes you to the elements. Other safety items include dry bag, first aid kid, foghorn, and cell phone or VHF radio.
• When children are strong paddlers and know how to wet-exit a kayak—typically not until they're teenagers—they're ready to safely join adults on longer and more open-water paddles.

Ten Trips

In these five family-friendly kayak trips on Cape Cod and along Boston's South Shore recommended by Michael O'Connor, tidal rivers, marshlands, and bays offer protected paddling for flat-water adventures from 30 minutes to 3 hours or even overnight. The biggest issue on these trips may be the parking!

Gull Pond, Wellfleet. This protected pond, fed by underground springs, is the largest of Wellfleet's famously clear freshwater kettle ponds. A canoe livery on the pond rents kayaks. Gull Pond is a great destination for a family's first kayaking adventure, with the promise of swimming afterward. During the summer season, you'll need a beach/parking pass, and you may want to avoid the mid-day crowds.
Nauset Marsh, Eastham. Nauset Marsh is the central natural feature in a sprawling estuary that's dotted with islands and extraordinarily rich in bird and marine life. Register for guided paddles (fee required) at nearby Salt Pond Visitor Center, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Herring River, Harwich. On the Nantucket Bay side of Cape Cod in a scenic mid-Cape area, the Herring River will take you through protected land and past remnants of old cranberry bogs. "It's the busiest part of the Cape," O'Connor says, "but you can feel as if you have that pristine environment all to yourself."
Waquoit Bay, Falmouth. The heart of the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the bay itself is half a mile wide but quite shallow, and offers miles of protected paddling. Extend your adventure overnight by reserving one of 11 wilderness campsites on Washburn Island. O'Connor cautions against breaching the outlet to Nantucket Sound, however.
North River, Norwell. Only 25 miles from Boston along the Bay State's South Shore, paddle up the North River to Norwell, a historic center of colonial shipbuilding, along a stretch of protected waterway. The Beaver, of Boston Tea Party fame, and the Columbia, which gave its name to the great Pacific Northwest river, were both built on land near to what is now part of the Norris Reservation. North River is a tidal river, so it's important to pick a three-hour period around high tide for this paddle.

New Hampshire and Maine
Jerry and Marcy Monkman have introduced their children, ages 7 and 9, to sea kayaking through short trips near their home in Portsmouth, N.H., and through summer-camp instruction. Within a year or two, they expect their children to be ready to join them in exploring the spectacular scenery around Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Pierce Island to Sagamore Creek, Portsmouth, N.H. Put in at the boat launch on Pierce Island, directly across from Portsmouth's commercial fish pier (non-residents charged a small fee). Paddle south and west through back-channel islands in a sheltered part of the harbor. Three of these islands were recently put under conservation easement by the town of New Castle. Pull up on one of the tiny islands for a break, or continue up Sagamore Creek, a tidal river, past salt marshes, homes, and forests. For a special treat, tie up for a meal at BG's Boathouse Restaurant right on the creek.
Odiorne Salt Marsh, Hampton, N.H. An easy paddle through the salt marsh that surrounds two creeks, Berry's and Seavey. Add hiking at nearby Odiorne Point State Park or a visit to the Seacoast Science Center—great places for kids to stretch their sea legs.
Mt. Desert Narrows, Acadia, Maine. A sheltered trip in the first national park east of the Mississippi, this outing gives you the chance to see nesting bald eagles, seals, and porpoise. The narrows includes several islands, including the tiny and well-named pair, The Twinnies, but Thompson Island provides the only island landing spot. Paddle during high tide or risk being beached by the extensive mudflats around Thompson.
Jordan Pond, Acadia, Maine. Jerry Monkman recommends a paddle in deep freshwater Jordan Pond as part of a perfect outing that hasn’t been improved on in more than a century. Paddle mile-long Jordan Pond from south to north, passing below steep granite cliffs on Penobscot Mountain and watching for loons and mergansers, which nest on the pond. At the pond's northern end, pull out for a short—about 0.5 mile—trial hike to the top of The Bubbles, two pink granite domes. Your Jordan Pond adventure isn't complete, Monkman says, until you've ordered tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House, which has been serving afternoon tea since the 1870s.
Seal Cove toward Pretty Marsh, Acadia, Maine. The Monkmans describe a 10-mile roundtrip paddle from Seal Cove to Pretty Marsh in Discover Acadia National Park—probably too much for young paddlers—but there's plenty of beauty in a shorter trip along the shoreline. Round the corner heading north from Seal Cove for a view of bigger water: islands, starting with nearby Moose Island and blue ocean beyond.

Learn more
- Cape Cod: Video of Michael O'Connor, author of Discover Cape Cod, paddling on Gull Pond
- Maine: Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides
- Southern N.H.: Portsmouth Kayak Adventures for rentals and instruction

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

Friday, August 6, 2010

Swimming Holes: Emerald Pool

I enjoy being able to include other voices and other experiences in this blog. My most recent guest blogger is no stranger here: He’s my husband, Jim Collins. On a hot, muggy day recently, Jim took Ursula and Virgil to one of his favorite swimming holes. Here’s his story.

When you grow up in rural New Hampshire, it’s easy to develop some expertise on swimming holes — or at least some strong opinions. When I say “swimming hole,” I don’t mean a lazy river or a quarry: I mean places where the quirks of geology and hydraulics have created beautiful or fun and sometimes magical little places to swim in fast-moving water.

Over the years, I’ve visited dozens of swimming holes, each different: Slippery rock sluices. Small, perfectly formed “Jacuzzi seats” in frothy whitewater. Secret ledges behind water falls. Cascading pools. Covered-bridge canopies. Bleached granite boulders in wide-open sunshine. Shaded, ferny glades. Wide flat surfaces with supplies of perfect flat skipping stones. High and low ledges for jumping and diving. And now that Ursula and Virgil are growing up in New Hampshire, too, we explore them together. The criteria have moved along with the kids’ ages, though the best swimming holes offer multiple attractions.

This week we hiked in to one of our favorites: Emerald Pool, off the Baldface Circle Trail in Evans Notch. We got onto the trail just north of AMC’s Cold River Camp. It's a good jumping-off place for the hike in to the pool.

As White Mountain swimming holes go, Emerald Pool is on the small side, like a gem. It’s a little over half a mile of easy walking from the trailhead. For adults, that’s just far enough to work up a sweat and feel as if you’ve earned the swim. For the kids, it’s close enough to keep the focus on the swimming and not the hiking, but far enough away from cars and roads to create the feeling of a separate, hidden world.

The day was hot and steamy. The kids, along with a couple of their friends, skipping and dashing ahead of me, heard the water first, several minutes before we reached the cut-off trail down to the stream. That’s another nice feature here – the gradual building of the anticipation. That anticipation has been rewarded, on earlier trips, by the sudden, startling appearance of Emerald Pool itself, whose shimmering green water gives the pool its name and whose sun-dappled, fairylike setting can, indeed, make this feel like a separate, hidden world, especially when we’re the only people there.

This week, the sound of rushing water was joined by shouts and laughter, so we knew we wouldn’t have the place to ourselves. As it turned out, teen-aged girls from a camp in Oxford, Maine, were making a day trip here. One after another after another, the girls jumped off a 12-foot-high ledge into the middle of the pool, splashing and laughing and scrambling up the wet rocks and muddy bank to do it again. Run-off from heavy rains overnight had carried silt into the stream, not enough to muddy the water, but enough to turn the green pool to gold-amber. Ursula, who values emerald, fairylike settings almost as much as she does water, frowned in disappointment. She led her friends through the woods, upstream from the swimming hole, choosing to explore the rocks and mini-pools and eddies while waiting for the crowd to leave. Alas, the girls were in no hurry. One of the campers and one of the counselors had set a goal of 50 jumps off the high ledge, and as they got closer — 47, 48, 49 — each jump was met by shouts of encouragement and cheers.

Ursula eventually gave in and came back and joined in the fun. She jumped off the ledge herself into the icy water, and beamed as she popped back up in the current. And did it again, and again. Her friend Mercy overcame her nervousness and jumped from a lower ledge on the opposite side of the pool. I didn’t ask questions, but it seemed like a first for her. The fearlessness of the campers might have inspired her.

On the way home we stopped at the Stow Ice Cream Place on Rte. 113 for cones scooped high with another summer treat, Maine-made ice cream. And I was reminded: each swimming hole is different, and sometimes the same swimming hole is different at different times. And each trip has its own rewards.

Learn more
- If you have some extra time, combine your swim at Emerald Pool with a first-class White Mountain day hike on the Baldface Circle Trail.
- The editors of New England Waterfalls have included Emerald Pool in its list of the premier 30 swimming holes in New England.

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

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