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Heading down the creek. (C) J.S. Reinitz

Sometimes in life, it’s good to break out of the routine and dart off in a random direction if for nothing else than a change of scenery.

Such was the case last weekend when I managed to pry my 10-year-old son and his friend from the xBox. They had been digging, building and exploring the virtual world of Minecraft, and they needed to get out and explore the real world, especially now that the winter blizzards and spring ice storms and the summer floods were starting to subside.

They logged off with surprisingly little arguing, and we headed out to the local nature preserve, the one that’s not too far away and still has interesting trails. Being early summer, the temperatures were still comfortable, and the usually vibrant mosquito population hadn’t quite bounced back from the recent thunder monsoons.

I figured we’d take the normal high ground trail (being as the lower loop was partially submerged), the path we’ve taken dozens of times over the past decade, maybe see some deer and be done with it. Making our way down the occasionally washed out woodchip path, we passed a few memorial benches and found ourself at the memorial bridge over the as-of-yet-unnamed ravine.

That’s where the kids took an interest in the small stream at the bottom. Can we follow this, they wondered. I glanced at the trail that headed up the next hill and then looked back down at the creek. It was shallow with lots of rocks and sandbars for reasonably dry footing, and I knew it ended up back at the main path not far ahead.

Sure, why not.

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Creek guide, author, photographer. (C) J.S. Reinitz

But first a quick rundown on some rules. Rule No. 1: It’s OK to get your shoes muddy, but you want to keep dry, so don’t soak them in attempt to remove the mud. We will take care of the mud when we get home. We still need to work on following that rule. Rule No. 2: You are wearing shorts, so stay out of the weeds, because there is poison ivy afoot, and so on.

So off we went, crawling over fallen trees, hopping back and forth over the creek making our way down stream. The young explorers found worms gathered in sandy spots under the water and peeled bark from old logs to discover little bug-based ecosystems underneath. They observed fungus and mushrooms and dug up small chunks of quartz.

Along the way, I spotted a piece of milky white glass jutting up from the soil, and I dislodged what turned out to be a small jar. Later, I searched for information on the words cast into the bottom and determined it was an old Musterole container. Musterole was a cold remedy in the mid 1900s, kind of like Vicks VapoRub. Internet auctions offer similar and better specimens for anywhere from $5 to $30, although none of the items I saw had actual bidders.

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Musterole jar, lit with flashlight. (C) J.S. Reinitz