Aislinn Sarnacki takes a selfie with her niece Willamina Sarnacki-Wood while canoeing on Daicey Pond on July 27, in Baxter State Park. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

From the stern of the canoe, I watched my niece as she dipped her paddle into the water at a diagonal tilt. I debated whether to correct her form. She could offer us more power if she held her paddle perpendicular to the water and the boat.

At 11-years-old, Willa is an enthusiastic and upbeat participant in any outdoor adventure I lead her on. I enjoy sharing my outdoor skills and knowledge with her.

But more often than not, she’s the one teaching me.

As our canoe glided through the rain-dappled surface of Daicey Pond in Baxter State Park, I watched Willa lean over the gunnels to watch insects dance over the water. She was taking everything in, from the mountains looming above the forest to the jewel-toned damselflies lighting on plants along the shore.

She wasn’t in a rush to get to the other side of the pond, or see what was around the bend. Her focus was in the exact spot we occupied. So I stopped paddling, and I let us just float for a while.

Out of the corner of my eye, I picked up a flash of movement along the distant shore. A dark brown animal, moving through the water. A beaver? A muskrat? A moose?

I steered us in its direction. After traveling a few hundred feet, I was certain it was a moose. It was swimming with just its head held above the water, its long snout plowing through white water lilies. I whispered to Willa and pointed.

“Are you sure it’s not a deer?” she asked, not quite believing our luck.

A moose wading in Daicey Pond munches on aquatic vegetation on July 27, in Baxter State Park. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

I assured her that it was a moose – a large cow, or female. (I could tell by the lack of antlers and the white patch under its stubby tail.) We watched as it waded through the shallows, aquatic plants trailing from its mouth.

It never looked in our direction. Moose have terrible eyesight, I told my niece. But they do have keen senses of smell and hearing. I was glad that our presence didn’t appear to be bothering it. Keeping a good distance, we continued our paddle around the pond, stopping briefly at Lost Pond Landing before moseying back to the Daicey Pond Campground.

“We should paddle here next time, too,” Willa said.

My first reaction was to explain that there are many other beautiful destinations in Baxter State Park to explore. Why return to Daicey Pond again so soon?

But then I tried to see it from Willa’s perspective.

The small pond was the perfect paddling spot for a beginner like her. We easily explored the whole thing within an hour, and we’d successfully spotted a moose and a loon. Of course she’d want to return. And what’s wrong with that?

Willamina Sarnacki-Wood, 11, canoes on Daicey Pond on July 27, in Baxter State Park. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

I’m so often focused on traveling somewhere new, whether it’s a hiking trail or a paddling route. I’d forgotten the joy of returning to my favorite spots.

On the same trip, I led Willa on a hike partway up Katahdin on the rocky Abol Trail. It was her first time on Maine’s tallest mountain, though she has stared at it in wonder for years. The goal was to hike just a couple of miles so she could experience the rugged terrain.

As we hiked, she leapt from rock to rock, careful not to get her sneakers wet in the mud. We were camping that night, and they were the only sneakers she’d packed. After two miles of rock-hopping, her feet were starting to hurt. I knew what I’d be buying her for her birthday: a pair of waterproof hiking boots.

For a backpack, I let her wear my running pack, which she enjoyed immensely. She loved drinking water through a tube. And I loved that she was staying hydrated.

The experience reminded me how much of a difference it makes to have the right footwear, clothing and gear, no matter what your age, and even on small adventures. If Willa had been wearing boots, she could have walked through the puddles and mud, which would have been safer than jumping from rock to rock. By the end of the hike, I was relieved we made it out of the woods without her skinning a knee or worse.

Our hike also reinforced the importance of carrying snacks, especially in the company of children. I stuffed a bag of cookies in my pack before hitting the trail, and Willa seemed especially pleased when I revealed them mid-hike.

Throughout our mini Katahdin adventure, I tried to share some facts I knew about plants along the trail. I showed her the big, floppy leaves of moose maple, also known as striped maple. And we paused to inspect the big, blue berries of bluebead lilies.

As usual, I stopped to photograph mushrooms. And again, Willa’s comments helped me see things from a new perspective. A mushroom that appeared “golden” to me was “wood-colored” to her.

And some mushrooms were clearly fairy houses. That hole in the stalk? A door.

While I certainly see the magic of the wilderness when traveling solo, it’s much more apparent when I’m with my niece. As I teach her about plants and animals and outdoor gear, she teaches me how to be present and let all that knowledge go, if just for a moment.

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...