I’m remembering back to special times for our two sons, Morgan and Jeremy, in their childhood at the 800 acre Foley Mountain Conservation Area, where my husband was Supervisor for thirty years. When we make trips to the city, one of the things that strikes me is how few children are visible. Here, of necessity, they are raised in a climate of fear. As Jeremy, now a father himself and living in Mississauga, patiently explains to me it would be impossible for him to let his little son Liam even play unsupervised in the back yard of his seemingly sheltered suburban home.
How different this is from the childhood Liam’s Daddy experienced. Although I generally drove the boys out our mile-long park road to meet the school bus at the gate each morning, unless the weather was poor, they walked safely in on their own, dawdling, loitering, wrangling, noticing things to tell me, like the shaggy mane mushrooms near the gate.
While we would not have been able to afford to give our sons the expensive distractions we see now, even if we had approved of them, it seems to me that what the freedom of a wild area gave them amounted to far more.
Morgan’s special private place when he arrived home was a stretch of open granite, with glacial striations, where he paced out the day’s troubles, and shaped his dreams. How do children heal and dream without the freedom to wander unhampered, and indeed unobserved?
Halfway down our driveway was a shallow pond, admittedly out of sight of the house, which the brothers visited almost daily, gathering tadpoles in season, sailing small boats they made for themselves, stirring the water, and, I’d like to think, watching the cloud reflections and wind riffles too.
Jeremy and his best friends, Nathan and Matthew, inspired by Two Little Savages, prowled widely, once exploring the interior chambers of an abandoned beaver pond, storing up memories.
Morgan built an impressive teepee three fields back of the house, where he had a mock fireplace within a ring of stones. Both sons dabbled in archaeology—pleased with finds of everything from a granite-wear coffee pot riddled with holes and rust, to what they believed was the house-site and dug well of “Jake, the Indian”, who once had a carriage way through the park.
Jeremy delights in taking his son almost nightly to the beautiful lakeside conservation area near his new home. Both of us know, though, that this is not the same as the powerful freedom to prowl which should be part of a child’s entitlement.