We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.
― Richard Louv
The house I grew up in was near a small river surrounded by some woodland. It was actually called Turtle Creek but in Southern Minnesota no one would every pronounce it creek and we always just called it „the Crick“. We skated on it in the winter when it froze – my younger brother lost his front two teeth playing hockey there – and I remember playing in the long grass and on the bank in the summer. There was even a swimming hole in one bend but I don’t remember ever swimming there. I think my mother thought is was dangerous. I just remember thinking it was too scary to swim there and watched other kids do it with the hair standing up on the back of my neck.
We never played down by the crick at night. There were animals in the area, mice and deer, I am sure, opossums, I think. I know there were at least grass snakes because I kneeled on one once and got my sock all full of blood. I promptly burned my sox because I was in the long grass smoking my mother’s cigarettes – I must have been about 8 at the time – and I didn’t want her to know I had been there. Somehow she never noticed the missing sox. At least I don’t have a memory of getting yelled at.
I remember climbing trees and playing hide and seek and watching the water. I think we spent quite a bit of time there, at least when we were younger. At some point the marsh and river lost their mystery and we played mostly in other peoples yards – kick the can, capture the flag and war were the usual choices. I only remember that we didn’t go down to the crick anymore. No real idea why not.
Now I live again near a woodland, this time with a small stream. Again there is wild life in the woods, foxes and deers. There is also wild boar but they mostly sleep all day. And mice and snakes but the snakes aren’t poisonous. There are also large toads and salamanders because there is a marsh around the stream where they breed. And all the other miriade of creatures that populate nature. What there are not is children. In the five years I have lived here, I have never seen any child playing in the woods. Not a single one. And I walk in the woods a couple of times a day.
Some of the teenagers in town go into the woods to drink but rarely. I sometimes see their garbage laying in out of the way clearings. Maybe they don’t need to hide their drinking from their parents as much as we did. Underage drinking seems to be tolerated in Germany maybe in part because they can only get a driver’s license when they are 18. At any rate, of all the children in this little town who are the age we were when we spent virtually every free moment outside and racing through the woods, none of them do it.
Has the world changed that much? Are the things you can do at home, watch TV, play on the computer, talk on the computer, are all of these things more interesting to children these days than they were all those years ago? Is the fantasy and mystery of nature something you only see from the comfort of your living room even if the real thing is just outside your door?
Or is parent’s fear of what could happen to their children if they are not within sight gotten so great that they don’t allow their children to play in the woods? There are „dangerous“ wild animals and the local hunter seems to hunt pretty often but still. I never see them at the edges of the forest, exploring the stream, looking for salamanders, catching toads. Never. It might be a cultural thing. German housewives (can you use that term anymore?) are very conscious of dirt. Actually, I mean OCD about dirt. Our neighbor behind us hoses his dog down in the yard every time he takes it for a walk because otherwise it would bring in too much dirt. (Imagine that in an area where it basically rains every day so all the paths are mud tracks and you know how much work that man takes on!) Maybe the kids aren’t allowed in the marsh because they would come home covered in dirt – God forbid!
It is for me a „puzzlement“. But maybe the world has just changed so much I don’t recognize childhood anymore. Could be.