July 19, 2022

What if Mother Nature invited you over for a playdate?


It is a clear, cloudless morning as we turn into Lake Wilson Park. Windows down, we hear the water rushing under the dam before steering the car around towards the lakeside parking lot. My oldest son opens the door and immediately uses it as a ladder to start unhooking the bungee cords that hold our brilliant blue canoe on the roof rack. My youngest son wrestles himself into the trunk to find the waterproof bag filled with snacks.

“Grab the life jackets while you’re back there,” I say, as I help unhook bungees and slide our canoe off the back of our beat-up SUV. We carry it over to the grass and take stock of the lake.

We’ve traveled the hour or so from the Raleigh-area to explore Lake Wilson. Day trips have become our habit on warm weekends. First, I want to prove that WE ARE GOING TO USE THIS CANOE and second, it’s become vital for us to unplug and reset. Outdoor activities get us looking around at the world instead of through the screens we can’t escape during the week–and we are all calmer for it afterwards.

This weekend we chose Lake Wilson, not just for the proximity to home, but because it’s flat out gorgeous. The lake gives us around 90 acres of water and shoreline to explore, plus one more thing that we don’t always get.

“Oh cool, a boat launch!”

I must admit, I’m pretty pumped about the boat launch, too. Usually launching the canoe with two boys means I’m knee deep in the lake or river muck to get us out on the water, but not today. I have high hopes for staying moderately dry for this outing.

We don our bright red life jackets, put the paddles, water bottles, and snack bag in the canoe to head to the dock. There we place the canoe in the launch cradle and climb in. With a little wiggling and some gentle pulling on the launch rails, we soon scoot down the ramp until we rest in the water. Paddles dip in the clear waters and we’re off. No wet feet, no problem.

We start slowly, staying pretty close to the shoreline where we see ducks sunbathing in the morning sun. A few turtles pose on log, stretching their necks towards the rays as well. I spy a water snake swimming, its long body waving back and forth, and encourage the boys to pick up the pace and head to the middle of the lake.

We’re joined by some friendly kayakers who tell us to head to the pedestrian bridge at the far end of the lake where they saw a beaver swimming earlier. My youngest has a love for all things furry, so we paddle our way there looking for a bobbing brown head.

We don’t find the beaver, but a graceful, long-legged white heron watches our approach from the rail of the wooden bridge. He gives us a show of his wingspan as we get closer, as most waterfowl are prone to do once they hear our crew’s jovial, loud conversation about who is paddling the hardest.

The pedestrian bridge is part of the 2.1-mile hiking trail that circles the lake. We see walkers, joggers, and fishers on the bridge who give us a neighborly wave before we pass under them. From our watery perch, we also spy the yellow top of a disc golf hanging basket. There’s an 18-hole course here that draws disc golf enthusiasts from around the state. We’ve done a couple of the courses closer to home and I vow that our next trip to Lake Wilson will be for a round under the trees.

We make our way back to the dock, where we deboard and drag the canoe to the grass. We find a shaded, lakeside picnic table and have the promised snacks. The youngest runs over to refill our water bottles at the bathhouse. The oldest and I carry the canoe back to the car.

“What are we doing now?” they ask, because my boys are nothing if not relentless for activity.

“You’ll see,” I respond, both because it’s fun and because mystery reduces complaining.

Ten minutes later, we’re on Goldsboro Street and the historic buildings give way to a two-acre open space filled with 30 of Vollis Simppson’s giant, colorful whirligigs.

“What are those?!?” exclaims my oldest.

I park on the street, turn in the backseat to face them and say, “Let’s get out and see.”

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228 Goldsboro Street, Wilson, NC, USA


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228 Goldsboro Street, Wilson, NC, USA


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