"Twee!" declared le Petit. "Tree," I agreed.
I stood at the side of the trail next to a large oak tree with my back turned to the trunk to let le Petit reach out and touch the bark. From his perch in the Ergo he was as excited as Nicolas Hulot in his latest contraption for exploring the Amazonian rain forest canopy.
"Bark," I told him. I love that I can get away with one-word explanations for most things at le Petit's age. I can say "hot," "dangerous," "bye," and "boom" with such authority, it's a shame my credibility will only diminish as he gets older and I'm forced to come up with longer-winded explanations. For now, however, le Petit was satisfied.
"Bak," he repeated approximately.
"Oak. Oak trees have rough bark, that's how we know this is an oak tree. Oak."
"Auwk," he said with a look of concentration after a brief pause. As usual when he repeats a new word, le Petit had a twinkle in his eyes and a clever half-smile on his face as if to say, "Hey, betcha didn't think I could say that!" We duly congratulated him. I started to head back down the trail when le Petit called out, "Beh-bye, twee," and gave a slight wave, just like we'd taught him.
We were on a hike in a forest on the outskirts of Paris. The sun was shining bright, almost warm, and busy burning through the last of the morning fog as if it wanted to chase February off once and for all. We were on one of the weekend hikes that my husband started organizing two years ago when I had to give up running early in my pregnancy and was desperate for some exercise. Now, armed with guidebooks and detailed IGN maps, we head off the Haute Vallée de Chevreuse, the villages near the Forêt de Saint-Germain, or similar forested corners of Ile de France every weekend when time and the weather permit. This weekend we hiked on both Saturday and Sunday.
Although his 11+ kilograms are starting to add up, le Petit only wants to ride on my back and not my husband's, whose wide shoulders obstruct his view of the road ahead. Thankfully, the Ergo carrier distributes his weight well enough that I hardly notice the extra load except when we're climbing uphill. My husband entertains le Petit by giving him sticks and leaves to hold. "Baton! Baton!" le Petit demands, then throws them on the ground when he gets bored with a "baton boom." More than once we've had to fish moss and pieces of leaves out of his mouth, but I chalk it up to his first attempts at field research.
I love feeling le Petit sway back and forth with my stride, or lean back to look up at the branches above, or lean in to snuggle. Sometimes he peers around to one side and waits for me to look back at him over my shoulder, then grins at me and giggles and swings to the other side. He can continue this game far longer than I can. If he feels neglected because our adult discussions of office politics and recession have left him out, he yells "Dada!" and "Maman!" until we pay attention.
"Ah ha ha! Look what Papa's found!" Suddenly the typical Francilian oak and chestnut forest gave way to pine trees. My husband found a pine cone and offered it to le Petit, who greedily grabbed it from his hand.
"Pin," my husband explained.
"Pain," le Petit repeated.
I started to worry that since the words for pine and bread in French are phonetically indistinguishable, le Petit might get the wrong idea. My husband apparently had the same thought.
"It's not pain to eat," he hastened to add, "It's a different pin. A pomme de pin. Oh, wait..."
The linguistic complexities of apples, bread, pine cones and trees were not to bluff le Petit, however.
"Dada! Beudoh! Cooka!"
No ambiguity there whatsoever.
As we finished our hike, he chowed down on cookies and we sang Dans la forêt lointaine and I hoped to myself that he'd still enjoy our walks one year, five years, and ten years from now. We'll see. For now I'm working on his forest vocabulary, with the odd lesson on sustainability and respect for natural resources, and pointing out all the birds and flowers I can name.