I overhead two well-heeled moms in a coffee shop a few weeks ago discussing potential summer activities with their kids. They were discussing the prospects of sending their boys to a weeklong summer camp. "He really wants to go," one commented, "but I can't see the appeal – it's dirty, they do dangerous things like swimming in mountain lakes and eating wild plants and [gasp] – he said he doesn't mind spending a week away from me!"
When I was a Little Kid I used to explore the woods behind my grandparents house, searching for snakes, chopping trees, and hunting rabbits (or anything else that moved) with a slingshot. I dreamed of building a cabin back there, where one day, I would live. Stephanie probably appreciates that I'm not holding onto that dream too tightly.
Back then, my world was small. But the woods expanded it, at least a little.
We should want the same for the Little Kids in our lives that we influence.
Last weekend, we took our Webelos den on what was for many, their first backpacking trip ever, into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. We saddled them with packs full of overnight gear, and hiked 3.5 miles into a canyon campsite that might not be remote by our standards, but dramatically opened up the size of their world.
The canyon is a place of drama: rattlesnakes, poison ivy, bears, and deadly whitewater – a place where Little Kids feel just scared enough to be thankful their dads are along too, but not so scared that they don't mind exploring that world when they're back there.
This is a place where adventure need not be orchestrated. We woke to a blizzard at 6am that collapsed our pyramid tent (the weight of the snow shattered the carbon fiber center pole). Temperatures were a cold and wet 33 degrees. Snow was blowing sideways. And to them, we were a long way from the car.
But cheerily, they ate, packed, and threw a few snowballs before hitting the trail and trudging back to the car, arriving with a sense that they'd just been through some eery dreamworld. As one boy said once we repitched our tent that morning (a little bit shorter), "This is awesome, somebody pinch me!"
Wild Places are indeed dreamworlds – a place to which we can escape, grow, and meditate. And where Little Kids can go to detox from their worlds – worlds full of bullies, peer pressure, ditto homework, and electronic entertainment.
I'm glad I'm still a Little Kid.