Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Something Wild

Writer Michael Chabon makes the case for the place of wilderness in young peoples' lives (here). Unfortunately, Chabon (or, one supposes, the editor who titled his piece) identifies this as a male phenomena, but otherwise I agree.  Growing up near open desert, mountain spaces, gravel pits, vacant yards, abandoned houses, and even cemeteries always meant preserves for adventure and learning empirically to deal with a measure of danger.  Building rock forts at the desert/mountain edge of Cathedral City or tree forts in Mt Baldy oak trees were probably the first unsupervised creative acts of any consequence in my life, and there's a direct line in my mind from these rough constructions to any music I've ever made.  It's a real pity that kids today are increasingly kept away from similar opportunities.  I suppose the trend to protect children from childhood misadventure is unavoidable (even in the first of the Great Brain books, set in Utah in the last decade of the 19th century, the parents decide to shut down a cave entrance to protect kids from getting lost), particularly given the shrinking spaces in which people are forced to live,  but there ought to be a place in city planning for wild spaces in which kids can learn to deal with danger in a useful way rather than be artificially isolated from it and discover playthings and playgrounds in real, found objects landscapes rather than in the toys bought, and parks built, for them.  


Lisa Hirsch said...

I grew up in suburbia (fairly urban suburbia, even) but got to run around and get into trouble without much supervision too. Kids in cities have plenty of opportunities to explore and have fun as well even if not in wilderness per se. In any event, I'm with you and Chabon.

Paul H. Muller said...

My Mom used to kick me out of the house in the summer and the only rule was to be home by dinner time. I grew up in suburbia, but there was some wilderness to be had in patches of woods, parks, etc.

I think the lives of children today are too structured, but this is inevitable when both parents must work. It's not just the facing of danger that is lost, but deciding to interest yourself in something instead of waiting to be told what to do.