The Wilderness of Youth

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As I was walking my dog this morning through the Clement Farm Trails, I begun to consider how these trails, though making a comeback of sorts, are what I grew up upon. We had woods behind our houses and, while I’ll admit that I spent my boyhood more fascinated by footballs and baseballs, there was a reverence we had for the woods, the river, and the hills of wilderness upon which we played. In a world with continuing development and less space, I hope my children can have a similar experience with that raw pulse of the world, to feel the visceral connection that we have to this world. It led me to think of my favorite essay by Michael Chabon called “The Wilderness of Youth.”

Particularly,

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it – nowhere I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play? There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts?

Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, her on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted – not taught – to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself

Thoughts?

Read the entire piece here.

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2 responses to “The Wilderness of Youth”

  1. zbergeron says :

    This may seem ironic since I found this article through a social media platform, but, more recently, I am making the concerted effort to resist the temptation of seeing what other people are doing. Make no mistake, this conscious effort is not an exertion of will-power for a claim at traditional socializing prowess; I am doing this for my family.

    I have read one too many of the posts highlighting to ‘the world’ what an outstanding significant other someone has. I hope I have witnessed my last selfie capturing pout-faced-duck lips with a hashtag stating ‘about to turn it up with my boo.’ My significant other deserves my actual time and attention…a call for no reason, some additional help around the house and, most importantly, my focus rather than the top of my head checking a device.

    I know I cannot, alone, teach my son the pleasures of human interaction and the world around us, but I will do my best to expose him. So, when I get home from work and on weekends, my time with him is being spent with him…I am not checking for texts, refreshing my feed or even snapping a photo of every moment. I want to teach him what I am learning; and, that is that life is to be lived and not observed.

    My only hope is that someone else will be doing the same…that way my son may offer that person a smile and they will reciprocate. In lieu of posting messages, my family is attempting to post memories #nofilter.

    • Matthew Osgood says :

      Zach, I encourage you to read the Chabon article. It’s an interesting take on the lack of places for our children to discover the world, or themselves.

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