Huckleberry Finis

I am reading an elementary school version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to my little guys lately.  I wasn’t sure if it was too early to start chapter books, especially with Ethan only four years old and a little…energetic. And easily distracted, too.

But he loves it.  I don’t know if it’s the starting fires thing or the running away, but something is holding his attention.

And try as I might to be glad that we live in modern times and life isn’t so hard for most kids, I kind of miss those days on my sons’ behalf.

Nowadays, running away generally means living on the street in some city.  Most kids don’t have the necessary skills to survive a raft trip on a river, even if they have provisions with them.  The only reason I have them is because I’m weird and like to sleep outside (and do pretty much everything outside).  I taught myself how to gut and debone a fish, how to build a fire and a shelter.  I learned about dressing a deer from books because I was interested in homesteading.

I’m willing to bet most of my readers will think I mean putting a snappy three piece suit on that deer.

I’m pretty sure I could survive for at least a little while.  It helps that I am intimately familiar with my particular ecological area.  I know what I can eat and where I might find it.

But I’m starting to think even the smaller adventures are no longer possible for our boys and girls.  I spent my middle childhood in a 100 year old neighborhood, in a house built when a hired gardener was de rigeur.  Our back yard was a wild, overgrown masterpiece with Rose of Sharon, daffodils, peonies and magnolia trees, mulberries and walnuts.  The former order of the design could still be discerned among the ivy tendrils and blackberry bramble, but there were coves and hideaways, forts and thickets.  There were pockets of wild, and my friends and I could climb and explore and never even be seen from the house.

We would sneak in the lushness of Virginia summer from back yard to back yard, unnoticed, unprotected.  We stole pale, tart cherries from a neighbors tree.  We pulled unripe figs from another’s tree to watch the milky liquid seep out.  Rocks were our seats, trees our beds.

I miss it.

I don’t want fear to keep me from allowing my children the opportunity to explore, to go places and build things from junk and make believe that their small patch of earth is a kingdom, and they the kings.

Because it is; and they are.

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8 Responses to “Huckleberry Finis”

  1. your childhood garden sounds wonderful

    • Thank you, Nurse Myra – funny, when I read that, I was in the middle of a discussion about my totally dysfunctional family life. So “childhood garden” took on a whole new meaning. I think I could use a visit to the Gimcrack. Glad you stopped by. 🙂

  2. Have you read “Last Child in the Woods”? If not, you need to! It is all about this exact topic. I think it is so important to give our kids the opportunity to play freely outdoors and to learn about their environment by touching and doing.

    I grew up playing in the woods, digging in the sand, wading through the creek. We did some things we probably shouldn’t have, but on the whole it was an incredibly positive experience. I was also a Girl Guide, so learned all sorts of outdoor survival techniques that way too.

    • I think I’ve heard that title; now I will definitely go check it out. I also did things I shouldn’t have, but they weren’t limited to the outdoors. 😉

      Those times of freedom were the high points of my early life. They continued into young adulthood, really; after I had my daughter I just brought her with me. Now I’m starting to get the boys involved. I think I’d forgotten how much I love playing in creeks until recently.

  3. I agree with you. I grew up Huck Finn style, not by design, my mom was a drunk and didn’t care where we were, but it was Huck Finn nevertheless.

    We lived a mile from the ocean in southern California and the Pacific was my own private sea. I would spend entire summers roaming the dunes, rocks, and jetties. A family that owned an Italian deli semi-adopted us and gave us food in exchange for a little work.

    We committed no crimes, caused no trouble, found missing dogs, drank out of hoses, and went barefoot the entire time. Cops and old ladies gave us rides and we didn’t know we were poor. Honestly, it was the coolest time in my life and a big reason why I became a biologist.

    My kids didn’t enjoy quite that much freedom, but more than most children. And they’re more independent than most of their peers.

    • While I know that’s not the kind of upbringing that necessarily creates healthy adults (really – I know), it appears it might create creative adults. I mean the total neglect thing, not the freedom thing.

      But it sounds like you were still basically good kids. Wish I’d had an ocean nearby! But we had creeks, and as a teenager I spent a LOT of time in them. And I never, ever wore shoes except to work. In fact, I didn’t even wear shoes into the grocery store where I did work unless I was actually working. I still hate wearing them to drive or do anything. I love mud between my toes.

      I’ve so long associated my total freedom with doing reckless, dangerous, unhealthy things that I have been very strict with my teenage daughter. Yet I’ve always regretted that she wouldn’t have “adventures” like I did. But no worries, she’s creating her own adventures in spades.

      If you haven’t read Glass Castles, you should. It’s another example of a totally bizarre upbringing. I’m glad I married someone who’s not disturbed or crazy like I am, or my kids could have written the sequel.

      • I hear ya, I married a completely normal person (she’s a nurse) and I can’t imagine my life without her. She often says, “my life would be boring without you,” so the things I (we) brought to the table add spice and even adventure. I think we’re lucky.

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