Ys

Seer of ghosts & weaver of stories

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An Uphill Climb (or, Hiking Purgatory Chasm With a 2 Year-Old)
Ys
ajodasso
Once a week, James, my mother-in-law, and I pick up James's aunt and James's cousin's 2 year-old son in order to go do something fun. Usually this means going out to lunch and browsing shops (or something like that), but this week's activity was driving out to Purgatory Chasm and hiking the Charley's Loop trail.

Running around in this kind of environment was typical as my childhood went; the number of dangerous things I was permitted to do all by myself (or with very minimal supervision) on a regular basis would, I imagine, be fairly shocking to most parents these days. At first, Nathan (the 2 year-old in question) kept repeating the same thing: (gasp) "Look! A rock!" (an even deeper gasp) "Look! A big rock!" As you can imagine, I started to wonder after a while, but then it hit me: each one of these exclamations was made with an increasing sense of wonder. All I had to do was listen to his intonation to realize that if he'd had the adjectives to modify each new rock he was pointing out, he would undoubtedly have used them.

Is this proof of how seldom today's kids are permitted to run free out in the woods—or even just outdoors, period? So little that each rock, each tree, each twig, is worthy of pure, delighted astonishment? I loved watching Nathan explore, but I was also vaguely saddened at the possible implications of what I was seeing. When the time came, he didn't want to leave, and he took a wand-like stick he'd found and a pocketful of glittering granite and quartz pebbles with him. I taught him the words lichen and glacier.

It made me realize how much I had, as a child, taken for granted.

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Two year olds can also just be filled with wonder. It depends on the child. My younger son (the five year old) can take or leave being outside, though he loves looking at the sky and the moon. The seven year old older one would stay out far after nightfall consumed with joy at every little thing and tell stories about each, proclaimed as fact even if they are pure conjecture.
Of course, who was the one to show him all this... Me. But the wonder has to be there in the first place to nurture. Sounds like Nathan is off to a grand start.

Two year olds can also just be filled with wonder.

This is, of course, true :) I'd honestly never seen such repetitive observations before, however, and I've been around and cared for so many toddlers in my thirty years on this planet (that's what being oldest in a large family and also babysitting for tons of neighbors and church family-friends will do for you, I guess)! So I had to start listening to his intonation for clues as to meaning, and it seemed to me that rocks and sticks were, as it turned out, rare delicacies on the list of things he gets to play with on a regular basis. I love the fact that found objects haven't lost their value even in an increasingly consumer-driven culture.

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I remember when my niece was seven (nearly twenty years ago now) I was taking her on a tour of my old dens in the Lake District when she suddenly stopped, looked at me with some surprise, and asked "But are you allowed to cross the road on your own?" I pointed out that I was thirty-one and they'd had to let me out on my own eventually, but in fact I'm pretty sure I did cross the road on my own when I was seven - when we were in the Lakes, they used to send us out in the morning and didn't expect to see us except at meals.

Now she's in her late twenties she tells me her friends' children are far more circumscribed than she was.

That's just the thing: I notice that the children of people I grew up with (and younger) are, indeed, far more circumscribed than I ever was (and, indeed, far far more even than generations previous). Getting dirty and wading around in streams was pretty much expected of kids, once upon a time; these days, it seems like something severely frowned-upon or even feared. Of course, it could be that it's rural upbringing vs. urban upbringing...upbringings don't come much more rural than the one I had! Sounds like yours was, too.

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It is certainly wonder, although I can see what you're getting at. I definitely ate dirt as a kid. I played baseball in the street (although, I did live at a dead end), and climbed trees, sucked the honey out of purple clovers and honeysuckles, the milk out of the dandelion stems. I loved playing in the woods.

I've mellowed some as I've got older, I think, lost a little of my sense of adventure. Hopefully, this kid won't.

(Also, Purgatory Chasm is indeed awesome. I was there on the 4th of July a number of summers ago now. In fact, my icon picture was taken while there, if memory serves. There's a similar place too, near where I grew up in CT. I remember taking a field trip to there when we were learning about glaciers.)

I did all of those things, too - and it saddens me that most kids these days don't seem to have those experiences!

Speaking as someone who used to spend most of her time outdoors, 40 feet up trees, or climbing rock faces, I say let them out. It saddens me what they miss in this day and age. I was gone in the morning, and appeared for meals, but that was it..lol

I am glad Nathan found some treasures. Rocks are just the thing. You might want to watch for pockets full of frogs or snakes. My grandmother wasn't fond of those..lol

On a semi-related note. "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv is a wonderful read.

I am very fond of fungi - excellent choice of words:)

I brought snakes in all the time when I was a kid - I remember one particular black snake I'd put in a coffee can that about gave my grandmother a heart attack!

Hmm, see, perhaps I'm a bit younger than some of the people commenting and thus part of that different parenting style, but as an asthmatic child of suburbia and a protective/anxious mom, the outside around our house was always where Other People were (namely, Other People who I had difficulty connecting with and didn't like or want to play loosely organized sports with). That isn't to say I didn't enjoy running around in the woods, collecting sticks and building fairy houses and imagining things, but I did that mostly after school, in the large copse of trees behind the athletic field; home was for reading and staying inside, and I would never have been allowed to disappear except for meals! But, and maybe this is the upbringing thing again, I understand where she was coming from––if nothing else, the drivers in our town are so horrible that I still legitimately fear being run over by them, and I'm 21 years old and certainly tall enough to be seen.

But then again, now that I'm nominally an adult, I spend about as much time as I can outside, which neither of my parents seemed particularly keen on doing (perhaps because they both grew up in a very rural but unhappy setting and wanted desperately to get out of it?), so maybe my children will inherit my love of the outdoors. Who knows?

At any rate, lichen and glacier are an excellent, excellent start!

In spite of the fact that I was slightly asthmatic as a kid, my parents weren't overly paranoid. Yes, I needed medication and inhalers, but I'm glad I was able to run around in spite of the annoyance.

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Yes, kids are more circumscribed, but I think a lot of it is also just that two-year-olds lke rocks. Some two-year olds, at least.

A while back we were in Australia for the World Masters Games. It happened that the rowing and kayaking events were well outide Sydney, the small town where an online acquaintance lives. So she brought her kids to meet us, int he local park where the races are. It isn't that far from their house, they'd been there before, at least a few times. These kids were something like 6 and 10, maybe a little younger, but they were occupied for a really long time with the smooth rocks at the edge of the water.These kids are homeschooled, and I'm pretty sure they get to make things and do stuff and be outside a fair bit of the time, though mostly very close to home. But they found those stones endlessly fascinating.

Rocks worked by wind and water are always the best :)

Little kids are great when they're not of the bratty variety. My friend's five year old is listed as a co-owner on one of her Persians and the cat never ceases to amaze Eddie! He just follows him around the house being like "Cat! Cat sleeping! Cat sneezing!" And because he is co-owner he also gets to take the cat to shows ;) So everyone gets the very adorable sight of little Eddie trying to "groom" (smack with brush) Jamesie, "bench" him (drag this cat up to the table and then try to throw it into the ring cage because Eddie isn't tall enough yet to reach the cage doors) and thank the judges when Jamesie wins things (which is ridiculously cute and most of the judges are so happy to see a kid loving cats as much as us more established cat people).

As for the outdoors - I grew up in a rather ghetto bit of suburbia and I was definitely not allowed to go anywhere by myself until I was twelve or thirteen or so, except for the walk to and from school (which was only allowed because it was a block down the street and my mum was a school lunchlady and was usually already at school by the time we got there; she drove by us every morning). I can't imagine my parents ever just turning me loose on my neighbourhood, lol, at least prior to the age of cellphones, which were kind of a godsend because I could finally go places with my friends and have parents not worrying about where I was. My parents were always considered strict by my classmates, though; in elementary school this was because I wasn't allowed out on school nights, and in high school because I willingly told my parents where I was going, with whom, and what time I expected to be home rather than being like my friends and telling them that ooooh my gooooood, you guys are sooooo strict, I'm an ADULT now etc etc. But then I'm younger than you and Toronto in the 90s/00s is a bit of a different place than the country in earlier decades (or even Toronto of my parent's generation; they were set loose on everything and my dad, knowing what he and my mum got up to without their parents knowing, kept a tight lid on us because they didn't want us making their bad decisions lol). At least my family travelled frequently; there were kids in my graduating class of high school who had never gone outside of the city limits excepting the rare flight back to their parent's birth country. Though I'm all for broadening horizons, it was dead annoying to be on the same bus with them when my graduating theatre class went on a trip to Chicago, rofl. ("Look! American houses! American roads! American garbage!")

Oh, bless. American houses...hee!

I know what you mean. When I take drives in the country to de-stress, it so rare to see children outside playing. If they are, it is usually when I see loads of cars in drive-ways where they are having a party.

Part of it I can understand. There just seems to be so many human predators out there these days that I'd want my kids playing where I could seem them, but it is also so sad when children never *want* to go outside and play anymore. It's all about the TV and the X-Box or Wii

Yes, true - it's the lack of desire to go outside due to those other things that's the most worrying!

I grew up twenty miles from the nearest town, in the mountains, unable to see the nearest neighbors because of the trees, running around scraping my knees and elbows, building forts and dens, climbing trees and getting pitch in my hair, and basically doing my best to make my life Redwall. Space and trees and mountains mean the world to me, and I've never been able to imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a city, or a populated area even, because it seems so terribly sad not to have room to run.

Not that I'll have kids, probably, but if I did, I'd raise them in the same kind of area I was raised in. There's tough things about it, but it's worth it, I think.

We were about twenty miles from the nearest town, too, up until I was about 12 or 13.

Is this proof of how seldom today's kids are permitted to run free out in the woods—or even just outdoors, period?

Yes. Not for every child, of course, but this is the pattern. I work as an environmental educator, taking school groups of kids (ages approximately 10-12) out to the beach and the forest. I regularly hear questions like "are these rocks real?" and "who planted these trees?" They have so little experience with an environment not fully under human control. Every single squirrel is a source of endless fascination. (Though this is partly because sixth graders seem to FUCKING LOVE SQUIRRELS way beyond reason. They will ignore a sea otter to look at a squirrel. I don't get it.) The flip side of wonder is fear, and my students show plenty of that too. Some of them are afraid to touch anything and will insist on wearing their thick hoodies on a hot hike because they don't want any bare skin exposed where it might encounter a bug. They can't deal with a little bit of dirt on their clothing or their hands.

There's a book I recommend called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv which posits that many children today suffer from what Louv calls nature deficit disorder. Plenty of kids only spend time outside in the context of organized sports. A lot of their time is structured into homework, sports, and lessons, and what isn't structured they tend to use playing video games or other indoor activities. It's a problem of over-protective parents, but also a problem of urban planning when communities are too often not structured to give kids the ability to walk places and play in the dirt. I truly believe that a lack of opportunity to explore surrounded by green growing things (or desert, if the local biome isn't especially green) hurts these young humans in body, mind, and soul.

Funny you should say that about squirrels: when the city kids came to my school for band/choir festivals, there was always one person who'd shriek, when a chipmunk dashed by, "Look! A striped rat!" Striped rat *headdesk* Yup.

Lucky kid, having you to teach him.

We went to his third birthday party yesterday, as it happens :)

I don't recall ever going through hiking trails as a child, but I remember all too vividly numerous trips into a ravine not too far from my Uncle's house as a young'un. And going through park trails with two of my friends at the same age. Those were times that I loved. I think every kid should be able to experience that!

I find it amazing that kids have no idea about nature or anything outside...too much internet and video gaming, I think. I love that you went to purgatory! I haven't been there in 10 years...since we moved to DC area.

I had never visited it till now, and I lived in MA for a few years before moving to the UK! It's a wonderful hike.

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