The big game in the backyard

It was nearly suppertime when my five-year-old sons began gearing up for action. They strapped on bike helmets (though neither can bike) and slung book bags over their shoulders (though neither can read), declaring themselves off to "adventure."

"What do you have in mind?" I asked as I surreptitiously inspected their knapsacks, noting crackers, a pencil, and a roll of adhesive-backed magnetic tape.

"We're crossing the road!" Harrison proclaimed jauntily.

"Why do you need magnetic tape?"

"To catch an animal!" Stuart piped. Then, leaping over the logistical hurdles of snaring this anonymous would-be pet, he asked, "Can we bring it home?"

"What did you have in mind?" I tread softly. Armed with magnetic tape and a pencil, my boys posed little threat to nature's creatures.

"A field mouse," they chimed, their plan clearly coordinated in earlier conversation.

"How will you catch him?"

"We have crackers!" Harrison shrugged, as if stating the obvious. "When he's eating, we'll creep up behind him and grab him!"

This sounded like a game-stalking scheme I could endorse wholeheartedly. "Rabbits, birds, and foxes are fine, too," I said, then nimbly hinged this approval to a veto of their road-crossing plan. The expedition would have to take place within the bramble-fenced five acres surrounding our house.

They swaggered up the hill, adventure bound.

Minutes later they were back.

"How did it go?" I asked.

"We need a map," they said. "And a magnifying glass."

My husband sketched up the former, and I scrounged up the latter while Lewis and Clark reported their preliminary findings: an ant hill, a baby rabbit, and his big brother - or maybe it was his dad. No field mice yet.

I watched as they marched back up the hill, Stuart clutching the map, to the ant hill, where they dropped to their bellies and wrestled for the magnifying glass. Helmet to helmet, they scrutinized the site, then clambered to their feet and again headed east, past the machine shed, beyond the hay bales, and out of my view.

Fifteen minutes put supper on the table, but the adventuring duo had not yet returned. I stood on the stoop and called into the evening stillness. Moments later, my ruddy-faced wayfarers came galumphing over the hill, slinging book bags.

"Any animals?" I queried as I unsnapped their helmets and pried off their mud-caked sneakers.

"Just rabbits. And a big spider," Harrison reported, "But we did find treasure!" They unzipped their book bags and dumped a crusty O-ring and a vague chunk of rusted iron at my feet, while spilling forth details of their expedition:

"We almost touched a baby rabbit."

"We found purple things we could eat."

"But that was when I sawed the spider." "So we didn't eat them."

"There were like baby spiders in the ant hill."

"I sawed some itch weed."

"I sawed a fallen-down tree."

I ushered my explorers through hand-washing, then steered them to the supper table, though clearly they were already sated: Full of adventure, full of themselves, full of 5, full of summer.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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