The big news at our house this week is that the grandkids have moved a lot closer. Up until last Sunday, they called Illinois home. But now their address is in North Carolina and many, many hours closer.

That’s a really great thing. Getting to Chicago to see ‘em was quite an undertaking. It’s a long way from 30009 to the far side of Chicago, and as you can imagine how that distance put a damper on getting to do things that grandparents and grandkids like to do. Now though, they’re just a relatively quick hop, skip and jump up the road.

So I’ve been making plans.

Specifically, I’ve been looking at places through the “fun-with-the-grandkids” lens. I’m finding all sorts of possibilities. I’d like to tell you about some of the places I’m finding, too, and I think I’ll start with what went down at Haw Creek Park.

Haw Creek Park is a Forsyth County park located off Ga. 20 and Echols Road just a few miles east of Ga. 400. Getting there is a piece of cake. Take Ga. 20 east to Echols and turn left, go around a couple of curves (one to the right and one to the left) and you’ll see the park’s entrance on your left.

There’s a second entrance off Samples Road. However, there’s no parking at the Samples Road access point. Instead, it’s just a trailhead for a spur which connects to the park’s network of more than three miles of multiuse hike-and-bike trails. If you live in the immediate area and are accessing the park direct from home, it’s good to know about this alternate entrance. Otherwise, you’ll need to park at the main entry off Echols Road.

Haw Creek Park first caught my eye because the word “creek” is in its name. You know me – always looking for another place to fish. So the other day I set out to try to check out the creek access situation. My plan was to hike the trails and, in the process, try to find out if the creek was accessible.

But I never got that far.

The thing that stopped my forward progress was a bunch of deer. By “bunch” I mean about a half dozen. When I spotted them, they were about 25 yards ahead of me, standing in the woods just off the edge of the trail.

A couple of squirrels played tag in a tree to my right, and several songbirds hopped from branch a few yards to my left. Somewhere nearby an unseen a woodpecker hammered out a riff on a tree. But none of that distracted me because I was concentrating on the deer.

Deer, of course, are not unusual hereabouts, though it is a bit out of the ordinary to get really close to them. In this case, and no doubt thanks to my great patience and extreme ninja skills, I was eventually able to ease up to within just a few yards of the nearest.

Here’s how I did it. The deer would drop its head to nibble on some tasty vegetation, putting a tree between its eyes and me, and I’d advance a foot or two. Then the deer would jerk its head up and eyeball me again. I’d freeze. After a while, the deer would lose interest and go back to grazing, allowing me to ease up another few feet. But then soon it would jerk that head up again, I’d freeze, the deer would lose interest, and so on over and over.

We continued this game of hide-and-sneak for quite a while. Eventually I was able to get within just a few yards of the nearest deer. Apparently my ninja skills are that good. Or maybe the deer had simply decided that a balding and somewhat overweight middle-aged guy carrying a notebook and a cellphone really didn’t offer much of a threat. Yeah, I guess it could be that.

Anyway, by the time I’d gotten within hair-counting distance of the deer, my available time was about gone. Shucks. The creek would have to wait till next time. So, still thinking about the wild creatures I’d gotten so close to, I turned to take the trail back to the parking area.

And that’s when I saw the giant roly poly.

It was a good three feet long, and it was looking straight at me. I looked back – and behind it was (what else?) a patch of giant pink mushrooms. With white spots.

And near the mushrooms was a huge gray and red millipede curled up on a rock.

I blinked a couple of times to clear my eyes and looked again. That’s when I noticed the three-foot-tall pinecone. Looking around some more, I spotted two giant acorns. Beyond them I saw bears – a big one and a couple of little ones – and all the while the giant roly-poly was just sitting there…watching.

I absorbed all of this in a span of about two seconds, and I promise you that no pink-and-white mushrooms were involved.

You know how it is when you get really focused on something? I’d been zoned in on the deer. And then I saw all the rest of it. For an instant it didn’t make sense.

Then I realized what I’d found: a set of play areas (the county calls ‘em “playground pods”) at Haw Creek Park, each done up in a woodland wildlife theme. They’re really very close to the main parking area, and they even sport benches where the rest of us can sit and watch while our kids or grandkids have a field day and imaginations run wild.

Deer, squirrels, birds, bears, multicolored millipedes and a giant roly poly, too.

There are all kinds of animals at Haw Creek Park, sure enough.

I can’t wait to show this one to the grandkids!

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