(A face in the tree? Craggy Gardens, NC, Trolls under footbridge? Photo CKMellor, Oct. 2010)
In the summers, growing up, I used to go into the woods behind our home and swing on vines hanging from trees. They were long, rope-like strands, made strong in that several intertwined. I pretended I was Tarzana, the female version of the wild man.
I’d swing out across the expanse, on a mission to save someone from harm or extricate one of my wild animal friends from a trap set by the enemy “man.” Those vines and that woodland playground stoked my imagination. It was a healthy pursuit.
When I wasn’t in the forest, I recall whinnying across sagebrush-topped mesas (in my Rhode Island backyard) pretending I was a horse, or bouncing on coils I fastened to my feet from a discarded mattress, going “Boing…boing…boing” all over the neighborhood.
At times, I wheeled my doll carriage around the back lots, joining with other girls, preparing for motherhood, before society taught us to question such. I collected dolls’ clothes too, buying an outfit a week from a seamstress who lived behind us, using a portion of my paper route money. That practice taught me to save for what I wanted.
Sometimes, I was a cat’s-eyes queen, hoarding giant glass orbs I’d won in games where I shot marbles with neighborhood girls. We tallied the count daily and jostled for rank. I don’t know when we stopped those skirmishes.
Each summer, we kids played impromptu baseball games, positioning ourselves across several yards, some hurdling hedges, to catch hard-driven balls. In the fall, at night, a neighbor boy and I rang doorbells and hid behind bushes as unsuspecting neighbors answered their doors. They stood in confusion, while we doubled over in mirth.
In the winters, we all went down to the pond that had grown enough ice on its surface to make us safe. We knew to stay clear of the deep end where springs fed; those were traps. If we got too cold, the older ones built a fire and we huddled around it, only leaving when the flames died down and embers glowed. But, if one of the kids had a package of marshmallows, we impaled them on sticks and roasted them over the dying flames.
At times, I’d veer off, alone, and skate through tunnels of young trees, struck bare in winter, bowing under the intricate interplay of limbs above my head. It was then I imagined myself the daughter of a king, and these were my chambers.
Those forays titillated: if I left the pond’s edge to explore, I found unmatched beauty and splendor.
That lessons of the woods and pond gave me the courage to go out into the world, as an adult. I knew I’d not meet the monster (if I were careful). As such, the wild places were my teaching grounds. They comprised the best part of my childhood.
I wish today there were real Outdoor Natural Amusement Zones (instead of the indoor ones that use jungle gyms, mazes, trampolines, and swings) where kids could flex their creative side. These zones would be fashioned on the premise of the 2004 movie, “The Village” (without the fear factor), providing a vast region, fenced off from the rest of the world, secure and subtly monitored.
Oh, there’d be trusted wardens to maintain that security, but they’d be mere backdrop, dressed as bigger children, never interfering or regulating, unless the situation mandated. It would be a parent-free zone. Adults would register, drop off their kids, and leave.
In this way, children could race across Prairies (as Black Beauty); skate the ice canals Hans Brinker did; and explore the forest chambers of Aesop’s Fables, in search of fairies and gnomes (while avoiding trolls under bridges).
Cell phones, iPads, and Play Stations would be disallowed.
Today’s youth is ever constrained by adults’ ideas of recreation. Amusement arcades foster play on a token and a ticket, or league sports are regimented or organized, following prescribed rules. Scripted birthday parties rule. Spontaneity and creativity have all but disappeared.
Most of a person’s adult life will follow a defined path set by work, societal and familial obligations. Only in youth can children create in an unfettered environment. Allow them that possibility.
Biddy believes children need such play to grow their imaginations.
(Minaret-topped Tree? Scene of many phantasmagoric trees on a windswept, mountainous hillside…Craggy Gardens, NC…CKMellor, Oct. 2010)
Grandson Luke with “Broccoli Bowling Ball”–a tree product we found in forest (Note the tree’s “fingers” reaching out behind Luke)