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?