When they’re 30, will they remember laughing as David leaned over with a mischievous grin and crushed Charlie against the side of the trailer? “It’s called jelly!” I called back to them. “We used to play it in the backseat of the car when I was a kid.” Will they recall the sound of our hollers echoing off the hills as we yee-hawed down the gorge? Surely they’ll remember the baby snapping turtle, no bigger than a silver dollar, which we passed from hand to hand. Then again, they might forget the entire day – lost like so many others into a jumble of ice cream, skinned knees, and endless childhood adventures.
I spent my grade school years in a mid-sized city in central California where the edge of town moved out about a mile each year. Like most children of the 80’s, I roamed the neighborhood from dusk till dawn, usually on bike and always with at least one friend. When we got hungry, we’d pluck pomegranates from a tree in the neighborhood or scrounge up nickels to buy candy from the ice cream truck. We dug holes in the ground in vacant lots, searching for buried treasure, and when the vacant lots gave way to houses, we peddled out further to find the wild beyond our fences.
Out in the country, we sometimes patrolled the irrigation canals or snuck into nearby apricot orchards. More often, we turned down an unmarked dirt road where grapes grew wild near a curve at the bottom of a hill and no one ever seemed to be. Once, when I took the hill too fast, my bike flew off an embankment and into a pond. I jumped off just in time but had to go home and get help to pull my bike out of the water. Thinking back, I’m sure someone owned that land.
Sometimes I wonder if our children can still find the wild that we grew up in. There are parks, playgrounds, and railroads tracks turned into beautiful trails. But can they still ride their bikes to a woods or a field where the world is theirs to explore?
Two weeks ago, we spent a morning biking on the Brown’s Creek Trail – two in a trailer, one on the tag-along, and one keeping pace on his own. The trail, smooth and safe, bustled with activity as joggers, cyclists and Segways passed us by. We traveled in a pack – four kids, two moms, and a healthy picnic lunch for the playground. Like the rustling of leaves in the wind, the wild tickled our sides as we passed. After lunch, we explored the trails in Brown’s Creek Preserve where we found woods, a small prairie, and two giant maples begging to be climbed.
Will they come back here again, I wondered, a few years from now when they’ve shed their training wheels and know this trail like the back of a hand? Will they come back alone to the woods? Will they climb the trees and play Peter Pan, staying out until the sun begins to set? If they do, they’ll be kings for a day and the wild will be theirs to enjoy. If they do, without a doubt, that will be the day they remember.
This week Brown’s Creek Watershed District and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources celebrated the wild along Brown’s Creek Trail with a nature event that included free ice cream, fish and fishing crafts for kids, live invertebrates from Brown’s Creek, fly tying and casting demonstrations, and information about stream improvement projects happening in the area. About 100 people came out to enjoy the evening and celebrate the wild.