Free Range Children


I have realized I am probably one of the last free range children in America.

My summers lasted forever.  Rising early, I’d leave the house to momma shouting, “Don’t Slam the SCREEN DOOR!”  The idea was to escape the house before the oppressing heat of the day won over the fan valiently trying to blow air in through the front screen door and other windows throughout the house.

No Virginia, there wasn’t any air conditioning.  Hot air blowing across you skin was preferable to no breeze at all.

My mornings began with anticipation of a day of freedom and exploration ahead with the knowledge that I didn’t have to be home until the sun was setting and dusk began to settle over the land.  If I misjudged my time I could always expect my mom to stand on the porch and hollar my name in a kind of long distance yoddle.  I ranged like the timber wolf miles and miles of forest bringing me back to the den at night.

Our house was five miles outside of town and surrounded by woods and forest.  I explored the cow pastures, found skulls and bones of cattle remains and other creatures.  I discovered all manner of wild flowers.  I came across abandoned cabins in the woods with long over grown kitchen gardens of onions and herbs.

Some days took me to the long ago mined out limerock pits.  The caverns and hills became my play ground.  I discovered artesian springs in the bottom of the mines.  Hollow rocks, sticks and white clay were my play things.  I could run and jump the rain eroded gullies.   I can still remember the sounds of rattle snakes startled from their sun basking when I galloped through pretending to be a mustang jumping the ravine to escape a predator or cowboy bent on rounding up my herd.

Old trash piles became archological digs finding cool bottles and trapplings of civilization left behind long ago.  Ok for a 8 year old long ago was last fall.

Wildfires raged through our woods just about ever summer.  After the fire was a great time to explore.  I had very mixed feelings after a fire.  The sadness of a favorite tree burnt.  The bigger older trees that were my real friends usually survived.  I guess I had seen the fires come and go season by season enough that I recognized the cycle of life and knew from witnessing the evidence of it that following the fire would come interesting and sometimes unexpected new growth to discover.

I loved feeling the powered ash under my bare feet and how black my hands could get from playing with the burnt wood.  The amazing patterns the ash and chared wood made, facinated me.   The firebreaks the forest rangers cut through the woods with the heavy equipment became my new roads to travel.

I found gopher land turtles, birds, critters of all shapes and sizes.  Streams, lakes and rivers.  I could travel all day and never see another human being.  Birds, insects, wildlife, plants and thoughts were my companions.

When I got tired I would lay in the grass and watch the clouds.  I learned to listen to the silence and hear the world around me, birds singing, insects and the rustle of wildlife scurrying in the underbrush.

Now we contrive to plan activities for children to gain the experiences that I came so freely to me.  Inquisitiveness, problem solving, cause and effect, attentiveness, critical thinking, appreciation for the world of nature, time mangement, planning, discovery were all generous gifts of growing up as a free range child.

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