Last night a friend asked me if my kids hiked. I thought about it for a moment and realized that with the exception of a possible school field trip, none of them has ever gone hiking.
My kids are city kids. This is particularly strange, since their father grew up on a seven hundred acre farm in Missouri and I was raised in a tiny rural community in western Massachusetts. When the children were babies, we moved to a small city. I was petrified and vowed that when they reached school age, we would move to the country where it was safer. When the time for Abby to enter kindergarten arrived, we still lived in the city. I acquiesced, swearing that when she reached the age of middle school, we would surely leave the city. That time arrived as well, and we were still unable to move. In the end, she and her siblings all graduated from city high schools.
The funny thing is, I don’t think they were any less safe in the city than they would have been in the country. In fact, I think because there were more options available to them, they were able to avoid some of the pathways that often lead teenagers to trouble.
Just the same, it bothers me a bit that they grew up with concrete and asphalt beneath their feet instead of pine needles and leaves. Once, when we were at a state park, Abby looked at the lake and asked which was the deep side. She had never gone swimming anywhere but a concrete pool.
I grew up roaming the woods and fields near my parents’ house. My sister and I would take our fishing poles out on Saturday mornings, and hike for miles- to Teakettle Dam, to Number One Pond, and along streams and brooks on the outskirts of town. The mornings were filled with the scent of warm mud, spicy pines and new grass. As the sun warmed our necks, and we’d fish for brook trout and hunt for Lady Slippers. To me, a carpet of emerald moss making its way over a slab of granite was more rich and exotic than the finest tapestry woven in the Middle East. I was convinced that the delicate sheets of dew that draped over leaves and grass were left by fairies that lived beneath Lily of the Valley. In my imagination, rocks layered with mica were hidden stores of gold and silver, waiting to be mined. We lay on our bellies and drank from bubbling streams, and made poultices from sap and leaves to relieve the itch of mosquito bites and poison ivy. Finally, when our growling stomachs begged for lunch, we returned home, empty handed, sunburned and contented.
In retrospect, I suppose our roaming was more dangerous than that of my children. They had phones and rendezvous sites and code words to ensure that strangers would not steal them away. They were slathered in sunscreen to prevent skin cancer and doused in bug spray to protect them from West Nile Virus. They wore bike helmets and seat belts and I always knew where they were.
But I had a freedom that they were never able to savor. To wander un-tethered is a wonderful thing for a child. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about Equine Encephalitis or melanoma or contaminated water. They shouldn’t ever see things like the Oklahoma City bombing or the falling of the Twin Towers. Kids should worry about finishing their chores and taking turns at the water fountain, finishing their homework and getting home when the street lights come on.
My kids are grown now- they will not be deceived by pyrite and skunk cabbage. They know that the world is dangerous. They are linked and connected and Twittered and Face Booked. They are better educated and better traveled than I, and they are more worldly than I will ever be. But they need to know what it is like to spend a few hours wandering through nature’s amusement park, to feel the breeze in their hair and the sun on their backs, and taste a little freedom.
Find some comfortable shoes, kids. Momma’s taking you for a hike.