Becoming Part of the World We Played In
March 23, 2014
IT’S SPRING, OR close enough for horse shoes as the old expression goes. I opened one of the Mary Oliver books I had not yet explored, Blue Iris, and when I came across her essay entitled “A Blessing” it was as if a closet door creaked open and out fell box after box of childhood memories so dear to me. They were from what I call the early time – up until I was about ten. I lived on a country road, though not very deep in the country, but I had only to cross our property and the neighbors on the west, and I was in the woods. I was fortunate to be born at a time when kids could still roam, and though I had a couple of close calls with harmful people, when kids get to roam they grow resilient, exhibit more common sense and feel more confidence in themselves.
In the summer, I would be gone in the woods until lunch, then back out until supper, for the forest held endless wonders, friends and treasures for me. Plus I wasn’t told, “Don’t get dirty,” as I ran out the door, a phrase I hear thrown at little kids today to what avail I don’t know. We wore old clothes outside; we didn’t see that as unkempt. We were free to become part of the world we played in.
Precious memories of those times I carry with me always. One of mine was the Saturday morning my dad said to my brother and me, “Let’s go cook our breakfast in the woods.” He was a traveling salesman, gone two weeks, then home for a weekend, then gone two weeks again. The To Do list when he got home was always long. But that weekend, he took us down to the woods, showed us how to make a fire, put some old logs around it to sit on, then fried up bacon and eggs creating an aroma I’ve never forgotten these 60 years later. When we were finished, we washed up our pans and forks (mum’s rules were you don’t bring dirty dishes home), learned how to kill a fire and then went adventuring. We even came across a woodchuck that hissed and chattered at us as we learned how to respect wild things. I don’t know if we ever did it again, but my point is, once was enough to deliver the message kids need so badly: you matter to me. We issue a lot of empty words these days, thinking we don’t have the time to do much more. But showing is always more powerful than telling where the heart is concerned.
It’s ours as parents or grandparents to ensure our children grow up with a deep love and respect for the wild places. These places, whether a tiny patch of bush, a park, or a giant forest offer something that all too often is not available from the people around us. The woods model balance and harmony. The woods demonstrate what life looks like directed by wisdom rather than intellect. The woods offer the most effective salve for our souls – beauty. If you make your children comfortable in the woods that is the legacy you leave with them.
Mary Oliver shared one of her precious memories of childhood in the woods in her essay, “A Blessing.” She and her girlfriend spent much of their 16thsummer living in a tent in the woods. Here is an excerpt from her memories.
We ran out of money and reported a falsehood to our parents, and went on with our potato, orange, candy-bar diet, and felt utterly wonderful….What we saw filled our minds. What we saw made us love and honor the world. And dear readers, if anyone thinks children in these difficult times do not need such peaceful intervals, then hang up the phone, we are not having a conversation….Happiness and leaves—they went together. The tender dripping of water on the tent roof, from the maples, or, once, the realization that a baby skunk had taken to one of the cots we slept on and was, on a rainy morning, in a sound sleep. Think of us—or think of your own children—in a tent that leaked only a little,…—think of us watching that very little skunk curled in the best blanket, opening its eyes sleepily and then closing them again; think of our silent and entirely happy laughter as we too went back to sleep.
Take your kids to the woods. Bring along a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you can’t cook where you go, but get out there in your old clothes, treat dirt like the ally it is, and, as you quietly munch your sandwiches, cuddle up not only with the world around you but also with each other.
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