Frog rocks and dinosaurs
An epic journey in the cool of the morning
These walks were an iconic part of summer in my childhood. We never found any dinosaurs, but we did find plenty of time to play, explore, and let our imaginations transform the world around us.
In the cool of the morning, before the sun-baked summer day’s haze, I set out with my mother to find some dinosaurs.
I was, after all, a “dinosaur detective,” a title I earned as one of the lead roles in the kindergarten school play a few years previously. I checked out stacks of dinosaur books from the school library and spent countless hours watching The Land Before Time on repeat. My imagination was infused with enthusiasm for the prehistoric.
We left the house before breakfast and headed up the street to begin an epic journey that would take us on a circuit around the lake and deep into the heart of dinosaur-hunting territory.
The fish and game club where we lived had everything I could want as an energetic kid. Part summer camp, part nature preserve, it offered trails to walk around, a lake to swim in, and a beach to build sand castles on. Most residents came only for the summer and spent the rest of their time in Florida (or other equally exotic places). In the winter, their camps slept under a cozy cocoon of silence, blanketed with snow, waiting to awaken in a buzz of activity when the warm weather arrived.
That particular day’s buzz was still several hours away when Mom and I turned off the main road and onto the gravel path of Forest Trail. It was the club’s most extensive trail, what I thought of it as the “long walk,” something we could only tackle if we made special time for it. And that summer, with me off school and Mom on vacation from her teaching job, we decided to start each morning with that walk, setting off under blue skies and puffy clouds on an adventure reserved just for us.
We passed the clubhouse on our left, a vast wooden structure that played host to a rotating litany of cookouts and parties. For now, it was dormant, the sloping lawn empty, the wraparound porch dim with early morning shadows.
And then it was gone. Trees closed in around us, forming a canopy that tinged the air with green and sent summer sun splashing across the ground in bright, geometric designs.
The hunt for dinosaurs was on.
Perhaps a stegosaurus would peek out from between the giant ferns that lined the path—awe-inspiring leafy fans that stretched over my head and reminded me of how the books said everything was bigger when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Or maybe a brontosaurus would loom above us as we rounded a corner. But if a T-rex crashed through the trees, we’d have to run for sure.
I wasn’t worried: I was too busy collecting small moments of delight as we hiked up hills and descended into dips. Our excursion around the lake was a treasure trove of discoveries that never got old, no matter how many times we compassed that route.
The giant lizards would have to wait while I tried to get a glimpse of clouds and trees reflected in the still surface of the lake or stopped at a culvert to dip my fingers in the chilly stream that gushed under the trail after it rained. And being on the lookout for scaly skins and armored bodies didn’t deter me from picking bouquets of delicate blue forget-me-nots, blazing orange paint brushes, deep purple violets, and countless white and yellow blooms I had no names for. A daisy or two for a centerpiece, and we were on our way again.
Mom never seemed to mind my imaginative streak. She took part in my childhood fantasies even when called upon to talk in funny voices or pretend to be characters from my favorite movies. Our walks were no different: if I was on the lookout for dinosaurs, so was she.
It was a game I never played with anyone else. Although I spent plenty of time running around outside and inventing worlds with my friends, dinosaur hunting was reserved for me and Mom, our particular brand of summer fun to kick off days that might include a round of backyard badminton with Dad and my brother or a trip to the beach go swimming and feed Cheerios to the fish. Her willingness to be my partner in imagination transformed our walks into containers for creativity where I could explore to my heart’s content and nurtured a budding ingenuity that I would carry with me as I grew.
Down another hill and around a bend, something squatted by the side of the trail. Was it a dinosaur at last?
Alas, but no. It was “the frog rock:” a natural formation that someone had painted with details to match its shape. Its green back and white belly were a signal that the walk would soon be over and we’d return to civilization.
I didn’t have much sense of how long those excursions lasted, but the sun was always higher when we emerged from under the trees and left the towering ferns behind. Our feet passed from dirt and gravel to the paved road that would take us home, where I could put my bouquet in a glass of water and plan for the next adventure while I crunched my way through a breakfast of Froot Loops or buttered cinnamon sugar toast.
What adventures do you remember the most from when you were a kid? Let’s go on a nostalgia trip together! 👇🏻👇🏻
Thanks to Foster members Russell Smith and Allie Crawford for their input on this piece!
It brought back so many fond memories of your growing up. Times to cherish!
I'm so intrigued by you growing up on a summer camp/nature preserve!