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The First Hike of Spring, by Esther Leisher


Some celebrations can be so fun and so simple– not much more than the highlighting of a special day. One of the simplest at our house was celebrating the first hike of spring. All we did was to make a hobo bag for each of us, then go off on the first hike of spring, celebrating Nature’s awakening, and delighting in the increasing light and warmth. We used bandanas (but you could use large cloth napkins) to wrap our lunch in and knotted each onto a dead branch or old sunflower stalk sanded where you hold it. These were our hobo sticks, which each person carried over their shoulder. I carried the extras — water bottles or whatever — in a backpack.

We went merrily singing hiking songs.

“I love to go a wandering along the mountain track, and as I go I love to sing, my hobo stick over my back.” And “When the mountain tops with purple mists are glowing” (Tiritomba). And “Over the meadows green and wide, blooming in the sunlight, blooming in the sunlight.” “Stodala Pumpa” is also fun. (See the text of the songs at the end.)

When we found a good place and sat down for lunch, I told a simple story of the gnomes who watch and listen, who like stories about small children, and like it if you leave just a little bit of your lunch for them. There was often a rock that served as a kind of offering place. Some people say gnomes particularly like pineapple. You could use that as the special food that goes with the lunches. However, I never seemed to have a pineapple around.

The hike might be no more than a few hundred yards the first year, when the children are quite small. When they are older it can be more challenging. Wherever we were, we spoke to one or more of the trees with reverence, thanking it for its beauty, its shade or its good smell — an aspen tree, or a juniper.


A mother with young children asked me recently what it was I said after we had gotten to a good place for eating lunch. I said something different each time, I expect, but it would have gone something like this: 
“This looks like a special place. See how the trees have left an open space. And here is an ancient alligator juniper. Think how long it has been standing here growing toward the sun. See how fresh it smells. (Smelling it.) What rough bark. (Touching it.) And here is a rock with lichen on it. This must be a place where the gnomes come. They will be glad to see us. And they would like to hear a story about young children. Let’s sit down and eat our lunch and leave a tiny bit of it on this rock for the gnomes. I think I will tell them about Laurel when she was nearly two years old and the picnic where she ended up accidentally sitting in the salad bowl.”

I preferred singing to talking and did not try to get a lot of information in. Some information was there, but the focus was mainly delight and reverence. Love of nature is part of being a happy human being.

Stories to Tell the Gnomes

               Families have lots of stories from their life together, especially about very young children. I might have used the time toddler Paul decided to get some honey out of a gallon honey jar, and we had a sheet of honey pouring out on the floor and a very sticky little boy. Or the time he turned the hot water heater off while his Dad was working on something in the heater closet. Those knobs are so irresistible! You will have a bunch of your own family stories once you begin to think in those terms. Gnomes seem to like stories about children under seven years old. If you tell them your story, they will lead you to notice something lovely about that spot in the woods that you might not have noticed otherwise. 

Making Hobo Sticks

If you want to try the hobo bags, you have to use a rough fallen branch or notch a smooth stick, such as a dowel; otherwise, the bag slides down. The cloth has to be big enough to carry a single lunch, but you can cut a rag to the right size. Spread the cloth or bandana flat, put a lunch in the middle, tie the opposite corners together, and tie the last two corners together around the stick. You can decorate plain bags, of course, which might be part of the fun. I used bandanas because they were easy to find and were the right size. Sometimes you just have to buy something and not make it.

Celebrating Simple but Special Moments

Celebrating the first hike is fun, it’s memorable, and it’s easy. If you live in a mild climate where spring does not bring a dramatic change, you can still celebrate a lovely sunny day. Life has many simple, happy moments. Why not acknowledge them, be glad for them? Your children will soak up the predominant feeling permeating their childhood — the world is good and beautiful. Laurel and Paul (my younger two children) in their early twenties went off on a hike with hobo sticks. Happy events of childhood linger far into adult life.

When They Are Older

When the children are older, and the hikes are longer and farther from home, you can be more serious and add the practical things. In later years I gave each child a whistle and a box of waterproof matches to carry on the hike to remind them that you don’t go into the mountains without a jacket, water, a whistle & waterproof matches for times when you might be lost or hurt and are waiting for someone to come. Of course I had already told them and shown them many times how careful you have to be with fire in the mountains — or anywhere.

If you are home schooling, this special hike will be pure celebration, but your other hikes will contain more information. Once the foundation is laid — the love of nature — you can begin to offer other things as well, interesting things about squirrels or birds or why a certain tree likes just that spot.

Hiking Songs

“Valdaree, Valdarah”
“I love to go a wandering along the mountain track, 
and as I go I love to take my hobo stick on my back. 
Valderee, valderah, valderee, valderah,ha,ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha 
Valldaree valderah, my hobo stick on my back.”

(Make up some other verses here to fit the situation, like “I touch the bark of every tree and bow to every flower, I hear the joy of every stream and praise the merry sun.”)

“When the mountain tops with purple mists are glowing, 
and the wood faint green is showing. 
When with merry ripple all the brooks are flowing, 
then will I be on my way. 
Tiritomba. tiritomba, all the world is calling, calling to me so. 
Tiritomba, tiritomba, tiritomba I must go.”

“Over the Meadows Green and Wide”
“Over the meadows green and wide, 
Blooming in the sunlight, blooming in the sunlight. 
Over the meadows green and wide, 
Off we go a walking side by side. Hey! 
(fast) Streamlets down mountains go, pure from the winter snow, 
Joining they swiftly go, speaking of life so free. 
Streamlets down mountains go, pure from the winter snow, 
Joining they swiftly go, calling to me.“

“Come Let Us Walk Across the Fields Today (Stodala Pumpa)” Czech folk song
(Slow and a little syrupy)
“Come let us walk across the fields today, 
Singing a song as we go on our way. 
Come let us walk across the fields today, 
Singing a song as we go on our way. Hey! 
(energetically) Stodala, stodala, stodala pumpa, stodala pumpa, stodala
pumpa. Stodala, stodala, stodala pumpa, stodala pumpa, pum, pum, pum.”

          You could change the nonsense words at the end of the song, if you want. Instead of “stodala pumpa” you could sing “Totally, totally, totally happy, totally happy, totally happy, totally, totally, totally happy, totally happy, pum, pum, pum.”

Every activity has to be adjusted to fit your own family, maximizing the meaning, the delight.

 –Esther Leisher


Esther Leisher was a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher and long-time Waldorf homeschooler of her own five children, who are now grown.  She lives in New Mexico.

Do you work or live out of the LifeWays principles?  We are looking for guest writers for the LifeWays blog.  Please contact Faith Collins at faith@joyfultoddlers.com for more information.

1 thought on “The First Hike of Spring, by Esther Leisher”

  1. Love this!
    I love this inspiration. My second grade teacher was rather old and crotchety, yet she loved music and had a piano in the classroom. She loved to sing and taught us so many beloved songs including the hiking song Valaree, Valarah! It’s stayed with me all my life and I sing it with my children when we go on hikes. She taught us to write by writing out the lyrics to songs. Songs have always warmed by heart and I’ll never forget the lyrics to Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Silver Bells, thanks to her ability to share her love for music. Thank you Mrs. Lowell. And thanks to Esther Leisher for this inspiring article.

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