This new thing of watching things unfold through an iPad or phone is slightly strange and vaguely worrying to me. And it’s one of the reasons I find social media gets to me after a while, I’m sure it’s done a lot for some people, but to me it just feels as though it puts even more distance between us.
I can only imagine how horrified The Mom was when she saw the local school kids out observing nature with their iPads. She is frequently horrified by what these children do, in particular the sheer amount of litter they produce, but also the fact that they’re not allowed to walk home unless it’s with what amounts to the Swiss Guard all around them, ready to thwart danger or anything vaguely interesting along the way.
When I was speaking to The Mom this past weekend, we reminisced about what things were like when I was little. I’d get walked to school by The Mom, the dog, and possibly my brother or sister in tow. I would be left at the school, and The Mom would expect to see me again sometime before dinner. After school, I’d walk home with whoever was heading in that direction, a rag-tag gaggle of kids I’ve known since kindergarden. We’d play with sticks, probably running with them aiming directly at the eyes (none of us are blinded!), or we’d throw rocks into the pond (none of us got concussed!), or we’d wade about in the shallows looking for the giant goldfish we were certain lived there (none of us drowned!). In the winter, we’d make forts (no one was killed in a freak tunnel collapse!), toboggan down hills (no broken bones!), or throw snowballs at one another (no trips to hospital!). We were up close and personal with nature. We’d bring home any woe begotten creature we could catch, a butterfly, a frog, a baby bird, and nurse them back to health, or sit with them until they passed away. We got muddy, we were frequently soaked through in winter and summer, we got bit, scratched, scraped, and had a freaking blast. We knew intimately the smell of dirt. It was the smell of freedom. Same as the smell of freshly mowed lawns, or manure, or a meadow. The country side was right on the edge of town, we knew about the seasons and what they meant to the farmers, if not specifically then generally. We knew what corn fields looked like because we ran wild through them.
I keep seeing on my social media feeds this notion of raising free range kids. These are children who are allowed to ‘run free’. It’s always made to sound like some exciting new idea, when to me it just sounds like being a kid.
We spent a lot of time outside as kids. And as we didn’t have fancy cameras, we had to get up close and personal with nature, and remember it as best we could. In junior school and junior high, I remember each new season, we’d get dragged on some kind of a ‘swamp walk’ as The Mom called it. We’d go to the local conservation area, be marched through a swamp, in whatever weather, and the names of things would be pointed out to us, along with the way to identify such things. This is a robin, this is a goldfinch. That’s a mountain ash tree, that’s a willow. And so on and so forth. I had thought this is just how all children grew up until I moved over here and in my old office one day, when my old boss, who is American and from Vermont so had a similar outlook on things as I did, were talking about lilacs and flowering crabs. One of our colleagues, who is English, piped up and asked how come we knew what things outside were called. We were, as you can imagine, aghast and confused. Because this is how it goes in North America. You have a kid, you put it outside and let it investigate. You hope it doesn’t get bitten or fall in a hole, but then you know that it’ll have to learn how to cope with such things eventually so no time like the present.
To this day, I still enjoy going into the outdoors, in modest spurts. I go on long walks (like in the 12 – 15 mile range) with the first girl I met in the UK. She and I wander along paths, looking at trees, wondering what they’re called. It’s really quite nice. And neither of us will ever pull out our phone to check to see what something’s actually called. Rather, we’ll make note of it, and look it up later when we get home, committing it to memory. Which is, to my mind, a much nicer way of doing things.