Posts Tagged With: outdoors

Looking back –

I am still waiting for the hip to mend, and saw the doc yesterday for an update. The good news is that the x-rays show that there is definitely some bone growth along the fracture line, but not enough that I can put weight onto it yet. What surprised me was that he showed me the actual break on the films – I had looked at them myself earlier, and thought it was about an inch and half long along the top of the femur, but he traced a break along the length of the bone that is actually 4-5 inches in length. No wonder this thing hurts so much!

I’ve had some good time to catch up on my reading lately, and have been thinking more about “Last Child in the Woods” and my own childhood, and how it relates to the book versus how my own children live now.

Up until I was in high school, my father was in the Air Force, and we moved every 18 months or so…while I suspect most people would say today that that is detrimental to a proper childhood, I loved it, and I believe it has shaped me in many ways that are actually good. For one, I am at ease in new places, and love to travel. When my job required that I travel internationally, I was always told by my customers that they could tell how much I respected their cultures, and found that I was easy to work with compared to many Americans they knew. But as it relates to my love for the outdoors, I think the stage was set early on as well.

When I was only 4 years old, my family moved to Izmir, Turkey for three years. While there, we spent much time with other assigned NATO families, and nearly every weekend went and explored the countryside. We would walk thru the ruins of Ephesus, one of Alexander’s many fortresses, and other ancient ruins. My mother would pack enough food for a small army, and we would go to the sea to play and explore – even at that age, I recall being given enough of a leash that I wasn’t always attached to my parents apron-strings.

What really stands out in my memory is the time we lived in Tripoli, Libya (I was 7 then) – while we did live on the military base, I was free to go out with my friends and do things I would never consider allowing my kids to do. For example, at that age I would take the bus to the center of the base to go to the movies with my friends – but even more, I remember exploring some abandoned buildings and scavenging supplies for the tree houses we built in each of our yards (such as they were!). I distinctly recall finding wires for lashing, scraps of wood, and more bent nails than we could ever straighten against the sidewalk. We’d drag our finds back to the housing area, and haul it up the olive trees in our yards, and build our own place to get away. When it was hot (and it’s nearly always hot in Libya) we’d retreat up there to read our comic books and stay out of the sun. We’d also be able to catch chameleons (the real ones with the googly eyes, not the Florida kind) and try to train them to race each other, which, as I recall, rarely worked without me getting a bite or two.

As I grew up after that, we moved first to southern California, then to Globe, Arizona, and then to Lubbock, Texas. In each of these places I can remember spending every afternoon outside, roaming the neighborhoods, fields and canyons at will, as long as I was home in time for supper. While the book “Last Child in the Woods” falls short in prescribing actual solutions, it does at least make me recall how I grew up, and what I would wish for my own children, should society allow it. Alas – too many crazies, too many germs, too much homework from school, and not enough real neighbors watching out for each other prevent this lifestyle from happening now.

And so I do what I can to take the kids outside whenever we can (and I’ll be able to again eventually when this damned hip heals), but I think going forward I plan to allow them some more time to discover on their terms, and not mine. We spend quite a bit of our warm weather weekends hiking in the Finger Lakes, and this year I will give them a longer leash, and forget so much about making time, but will make it a better time. We’ll see how it goes – and as we get cranked up again, I’ll be sure to update here on our journeys, both on the trail, and back in time.

I wanted to add at the end here that when I was younger and out playing, I used to come home filthy – dirty, muddy and just plain messy. Never once do I remember getting in trouble for being dirty – in fact, I think it was understood by my parents that I was just “being a kid” – I thank them both for that, and hope to do the same for my kids. Dirty? So what! It’ll wash off – that’s why they take showers!

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Last Child in the Woods…

lastchildpbcover.jpgI just finished reading “Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv….it was, to say the least, an interesting read, and one that made me think of my own childhood. I would highly recommend it, and am planning myself to buy several copies for the school administrators of my children’s school district.

Louv’s premise is that today’s children have lost touch with Nature, and by doing so, are losing out on a major component of their total learning experience. There is certainly more to it than that, but that’s the nickel tour…there are enough other reviews and synopsis around that you don’t need me to write another one.

My major fault with the book, as important a work as I believe it to be, is that it seems incomplete. While Louv gives some examples of school districts and communities that are trying things to bring kids back to nature, he doesn’t really say what the rest of the schools and communities should do. Perhaps its because the answer isn’t that simple, and that each community has it’s own set of issues to deal with, but what I took from it is that the problem is so big, it’s ludicrous to even think about a grand solution.

To me, like many of the issues with today’s education system, the solution to this problem starts at home. Granted, the world is a very different place than it was when I was a kid running around the neighborhood building forts, tree-houses, and getting muddy. Hell, my children’s mother doesn’t even allow them to get muddy for fear they’ll get ring-worms or something. But with the reality of whacked out psycho-paths on the prowl for young children, many of our fears do have foundation. So what to do?

Our family – my wife, her daughter and my two children – do as much as we can to spend our weekend time outdoors as we can. Unfortunately, I only have my children with us every other week, but when we do, we make it a point to plan some outdoor activity – typically we’ll drive down to the Finger Lakes area and hike on of the many waterfall-lined trails we are blessed with in this part of New York. And while these trips are not super-rugged, they do get the kids out experiencing nature first hand. Last summer the three kids spent one hike trying to ‘out-find’ each other, and turned up frogs, toads, salamanders and bugs I had missed – but the point is they were looking! And despite the fact that their little legs got tired, they had fun…

This is not the same as the unstructured wild play time Louv suggests is so important, but in the context of today’s world, I know it’s more than many of their friends get.

One other interesting point I’d like to add – I know there are many forums that criticize Bear Grylls and his Discovery Channel show Man vs Wild. I have a different perspective, and proof positive of his impact. No, his shows are not NOLS level survival courses, and yes, he likely makes some foolish decisions that might adversely impact your chance for survival should you be in a situation such as he places himself. But – my kids LOVE this show, and they love him, and because of watching his show, they are more intrigued than ever to get back out into the woods and try new things. Last weekend it snowed here (and yes, it’s snowing quite a bit now) – rather than spend the weekend in front of the telly, my kids went out in our yard, found several 7′ gardening stakes, some rope and a tarp (OK, so it was the one covering my firewood – whatever!). In the back of our yard under some trees and against the fence, they lashed the poles to the fence, and tied the tarp over the frame they built, and built a perfectly excellent shelter. Like their hero Bear, they made a camp, and even made a make-believe firepit in the shelter to cook on.Even as I look out back now with the 10 inches of snow we’ve had since last night, it’s still standing, and if they were here this week, I know they’d be out there. So while Bear isn’t necessarily going to save your life, he might just save your family from Nature Deficit Disorder, and I think even Richard Louv would be happy with that!

You gotta start somewhere…

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