By Lynne Dardanell

“The days are long but the years are short”. I heard this phrase recently from someone whom I will forever consider very wise – a coworker, I believe, who was surely responding to a frustrating anecdote I was sharing about my kids. I try to remind myself of this poignant thought whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, tired or just plain ready for the day to end – the days are long, but the years are short.

Many of us have probably felt this way recently, with the dog days of summer lagging not far behind, and the fresh new schedules of school or fall routines just starting to sink in. For me this also equates to a time shift in my ever-present battle to get the little people outside to play – nowadays it’s after they get home from school. “But Mom, we were outside ALL DAY, at recess”, although I see right through their façade because, mind you, recess only accounts for thirty minutes of outside time per day.

What I do find, however, is that I can sometimes lull them outside under the guise of other tasks … such as running next door to ask the neighbor a question, learning the neighbor has a bad cold so running back to our kitchen to prepare a food item for the neighbor. Then we’re off and running, outside again because we have to deliver said food item. Aha! Twice now we’ve been outside, traipsing through the woods, racing each other to see who gets there first, tearing down cobwebs, stopping to examine a dead cicada, noticing a hint of fall color amongst the leaves, seeing our tuxedo kitten follow us along the trail like a faithful puppy – all byproducts of my successful ruse to spend even just a few moments outdoors.

Perhaps I have taken the outside thing a little too far at times, like this summer when I placed my older daughter in time-out beside the pond. Let it be known that getting into trouble around here will not secure you any time back in the comfort of our air-conditioned home, much less the peaceful retreat of your room. And of course any holiday that celebrates ME will certainly be spent outdoors – from Mother’s Day picnics in the park to birthday hikes in the woods.

Mostly I spend the last days of the summer season wondering whether we went outside ENOUGH. But then I remember the occasion we had a long wait at a restaurant while traveling, so off exploring we went – circling the outside of the restaurant on foot, taking in the scent of flowering shrubs, turning over stones, finding crickets.

Or the “lizard walks” we embarked on in Florida while visiting my father-in-law at his retirement community. The girls couldn’t wait to go outside and discover the abundant “skink lizards” who seemed somewhat intrigued by little people chasing them from one hiding place to another.

Or the one fishing trip we took with my Dad when he came to visit mid-summer – an excursion we had to squeeze in between rain showers and thunderstorms – but never the less complete with someone spilling the worms (an annual occurrence), the spotting of resident turtles hoping to score some bait for food, fishing gear miraculously ending up in trees, and at least one person getting stuck in the mud quicksand-style (hint: it was not a child). My favorite part of that trip was when I commented that it was starting to sprinkle and despite the access to iphones and weather apps, my five-year-old remembered that being a human rain gauge is not only fun but of course gives the most accurate report possible.

The great thing about all the rain is that our surroundings were indeed lush, providing lots of beautiful green foliage and grass as opposed to the normal dried-out landscapes common for July and August. Certainly no need to water a garden! And the tadpoles are still plentiful going into fall, for our ponds have remained filled to the brim all summer long.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t wish it away for anything, those precious last moments of summer – with balmy nights and never-ending unstructured days, and little people who never cease to amaze and delight me, and also themselves.

For I am reminded once again … the days may be long, but the years are, indeed, short.

Lynne Dardanell lives in Summerfield, NC with her husband and two daughters. She works part time for Piedmont Land Conservancy planning membership and outreach programs, including monthly nature outings for families.