Hard to believe, but next week is Memorial Day, the starter's pistol of summer.
When you look at a calendar, it seems like a long stretch, summer does. But the 13 weekends that are the stepping stones to Labor Day really gallop by. Then all of the sudden, you're trying to jam feet back into shoes and the blender onto the shelf behind the harvest gold-colored fondue pot.
We here in The Sun's toy department don't advocate a life in slavish devotion to checklists, preferring as we do to wallow in "unstructured time," as educators like to say.
Still, it might be nice to make a list of 13 desirous goals and choose a handful to tackle, a Whitman's sampler of outdoors experiences.
Here goes a starter list, in no particular order:
Go fishing. No, really do it this time. Get an inexpensive rod and reel, some worms, cheap lures or a hunk of old bread. I once caught a catfish on a French fry sprayed with WD-40. Not my proudest moment, but, hey, it worked. Don't worry about buying a license the first two Saturdays in June and July 4. Those are Maryland's three free fishing days. You do, however, have to obey the fishing regulations.
Paddle a canoe or kayak. The state has a gazillion miles of shoreline - I forget the exact number - much of it calm and filled with wildlife. At Quiet Waters Park on the outskirts of Annapolis, rent a kayak from the Paddle or Pedal concession stand (410-271-7007) and tour Harness Creek to get your sea legs. Want to learn more? Ultimate Watersports at Gunpowder Falls State Park (410-335-5352), has been teaching people for two decades. Its $60 three-hour beginner's course on Saturdays is designed to give you confidence and keep you safe.
Pedal a bike. The B&A; Trail that runs from Glen Burnie to Annapolis is easy, has water fountains and benches and lots of experienced riders who will help you out in a jam. Nearby is the BWI Trail, a 12.5-mile path that circles the airport. At 20 miles long, the Northern Central Railroad Trail is another great ride, from Hunt Valley to the state line. Tackle just a piece, put a car at each end or go round trip. Friends and I walked it a couple years ago. Strenuous but doable. Pull-off areas for cars fill up early on weekends.
Get out of Dodge or Glen Burnie or Westminster. With more than 2,000 camp sites and 120 cabins, state campgrounds can accommodate not only those who like to pitch a tent but also folks who like the feel of a solid roof overhead and a floor under their feet. With gas prices the way they are, staying in a camper cabin at Cunningham Falls State Park in Frederick County is a little bit civilized and a little bit wild. (My favorite spot, New Germany State Park in Garrett County, is undergoing renovations and might be a tad chaotic). Catoctin Mountain Park, run by the National Park Service, is adjacent to Cunningham Falls. The two parks combine for 25 miles of trails. The Department of Natural Resources has an online reservation service, or you can call toll-free, 1-888-432-2267.
Tap the family's inner Lewis and Clark by signing up for DNR's "Park Quest," a free scavenger hunt at six Eastern Shore state parks that begins Saturday (May 24) and ends July 20.
At the parks - Assateague, Janes Island, Martinak, Pocomoke, Tuckahoe and Wye Island - families will have to complete an adventure and get their passport stamped by park staff. The adventure can take up to two hours.
Qualifying families will be invited to compete in the Park Quest finale on Aug. 2 at Pocomoke State Park's Shad Landing for prize packages that involve fishing, paddling, pedaling and camping. Talk about your Whitman's sampler of outdoors activities.
Register on DNR's Web site or call 410-820-1668 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Quest packet will arrive by mail.
Ticking time bomb
If this is May, it must be Lyme Disease Prevention Month. Hallmark hasn't designed a card yet, but can it be far off?
Be careful out there. As a one-time host, let me tell you the disease is just like the house guest that just won't leave.
Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the woods and tall grasses. If it's too hot for that, spray skin and clothes with bug juice containing 30 percent DEET.
Afterward, check for ticks. They're little, so look closely.
Remove the little buggers with tweezers and wash the area with soap and water.
If you get the "bull's eye" rash or begin to feel crummy, don't delay, see a doctor.
And eat your vegetables. It won't prevent Lyme disease, but if you buy them at a local produce stand, you'll be helping Maryland farmers.