Sunday, September 27, 2009

Into the Wild: The Hypocrite's Edition

Lately the kids and I have been taking walks in the woods behind our house after work. These are the same woods I played in as a child, but without any parental supervision. My sister and I would walk up the hill then down through the gulley where a creek ran, following it all the way to the waterfall where it got too steep to climb. Then we’d tack right and hike up to what we called The Big Rocks—granite boulders the size of tanks—and come back down to play in the muddy irrigation canal that traversed the steep hill and brought water from the mountain lakes to the valley’s farms and orchards. This was our playground.

The summer of my senior year, my friend Dennis and I would make plans for late-night rendezvous up at the canal when our parents had gone to sleep. Truly a friendship, there was never any romantic intention to these meetings but I do remember it being magical in the way life is when you are sixteen and sneaking away to sit on the side of a mountain by a canal with a boy, stars winking above you and the town lights winking below. Like Moon Flowers, the long philosophical conversations we had on the phone bloomed more fully in the night air.

What amazes me now is how fearless I was then, popping the screen out of my window and climbing out to run off into the dark. The trail to the canal was so heavily wooded that even on a moonlit night it would be black as a cave. I knew the trail by heart, though, and ran the mile or so without stopping. I never thought of cougars or madmen or bears or snakes—all absolutely real threats in those woods—and if someone had warned me, I would have rolled my eyes. Dying is impossible at that age. Danger is like a free and easy drug when the fragility of life is such a foreign idea.

As I walk the trails as an adult with my own kids, I’m torn. The relationship those woods and I have is as important and as meaningful as any childhood friendship, and the freedom we were given to roam was instrumental in shaping my sense of independence and capability.

Will I allow that for my own kids? I don’t know. I wish I could say yes but I’m still not sure.

How do you feel about kids running off into the wild?

12 comments:

Suzanne Young said...

Maybe I'm getting old, but I find myself thinking things like, "Life was safer back then." You know, like when I had to walk 8 miles to school in the snow.

I don't think I'd let them go alone, and I'm pretty good at letting my kids wander. But I like to let them wander within the same space as me.

Tough question, C. I'll be interested in other people's responses....

Tina Lee said...

I love this post. Such nice memories, storybook even, juxtaposed with what is so real to me--worries about my children and worries even about what they are experiencing or not going to get to experience. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog. Life in Ashland was much different in those days. It was a small self-contained town, mostly teachers, professors and mill employees. The Festival was much smaller then, and the college was a "live-in-the-dorm" school for the mostly 18-22 set. Large tribes of street people and total nudity were unheard-of phenominons. No, please don't let the kids roam free like you two did. I'm glad you are taking them up there for the scenic beauty, but they need to be aware of the dangers, and supervised until they are adult enough to be trained in survival. - CAM

Jennie Englund said...

It's a whole different world, isn't it, both the time we live in and the woods themselves.

Maybe a little wandering within boundaries is reasonable?

I'll tell you what: Rees was definitely out of range in the Exploratorium last month. Yikes!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Tina aptly names it "storybook". Will I be able to allow my children to create their own similar storybook in which they explore their own independence? I am afraid not, and that makes me sad and even a little angry.

Maybe Christy's post is a reminder to us that, even with all the risks, we need to do a better job of encouraging our children to make those first steps Into the Wild?

-Dennis V

Anonymous said...

All parents (and teachers) should read a book by Richard Louv called "Last Child in the Woods". It is a great text and explains how the media explosion has scared people from letting their children play outside, and what this has done to the kids. The publisher is Algonquin Books(2006). I highly recommend it!
Carol

Irene Latham said...

Christy, I love this post and I believe kids NEED these type adventures... We have a state park just about in our backyard, so I send mine out with a cell phone and a strict curfew. Funny thing... sometimes when I am on those trails alone, I get a little spooked -- too many stories on tv! But like you said, the young are immune to those worries. Which is perhaps the best reason of all that they should be able to enjoy it while they can.

Barbara Slaton said...

Argh! Such a different perspective when your little one is "out there somewhere..."

I think you can trust those kids to make their own adventures, but I like the idea of a Cell Phone and curfew. Maybe one of those family plans where there is a GPS-like device on their phone so YOU know where THEY are.

Anna Claire said...

I don't have kids yet and so probably don't really deserve an opinion on this, but here it is anyway. I don't think it's any more dangerous today than it was when we were kids. There's just more media exposure when bad stuff happens so it SEEMS like it's more dangerous. Kids are way, way more likely to die from something "mundane" like a car accident or medical condition than to get kidnapped by a psycho or eaten by a bear. I like Irene's comment. Let them run free!

Deb Markanton said...

Like you, I was allowed to run free when I was a kid. My parents actually encouraged it! We lived in Europe off and on so I was told to learn the language and go. I think back on all the other things we did...making go-karts, forts, exploring...and truly wish kids today could have that freedom to learn about themselves like I did. Unfortunately, it's limited now. We are like cruise directors for our kids. Always around supervising the activities.It's a shame.

Anne Spollen said...

I'm not torn. I just tell them at their ages I read all the time and that's what they should do. Stay in the house, lock the doors, and only eat organic food.

Oh, and I keep them extremely far from anybody who remembers me before the age of 25 or so. ; )

tonya said...

1. They will sneak out too. So don't worry, you won't even know they are out in the woods.

2. Walkie talkies - they love them, they work and you will have hte base station at home and can hear what they are chatting about.