I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived- Henry David Thoreau
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no one has gone before- Gene Roddenberry
Or, as in our case, perhaps we’re working on it…
This summer, I’m working with my children on “Summer Adventure Camp”- aka “Mom loves Singapore Math and Michael Clay Thompson’s work and I’m bound and determined that my children WILL get exposure, so I’m building themes around them”. We’ve had a few bumps, primarily because of timing of other camps and my need to teach and find child care. But we’ve made a little headway… The first week, since my mom was in town, we touched on geology. We made “earths” of a chocolate chip inside of a marshmallow coated in chocolate (core, mantle and crust). We “floated” graham crackers on peanut butter for the plates to crash and create earthquakes and mountains of graham cracker crumbs. We made sedimentary rock layers of graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, marshmallows and sugar; smashed them and left them in the sun to make metamorphic rocks, and melted the whole thing together to make igneous rocks and to complete the rock cycles. Geology was a very yummy unit!
This week, we’re moving onto “Spanish Explorers”. We live close to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country, so I thought that it would be a great field trip! We started with the concept of “Exploration”; we looked at a globe about how and why Columbus crashed into the Americas; we talked about how the Native Americans did not have a concept for “owning” the land How can you own something you can’t take with you?; and we did a brief history of Columbus and Ponce de Leon. We talked about how the Spanish explored up the coast and came up to Georgia, right where we are here. They had learned earlier in a visit we made to Fort Frederica that the very small, but decisive Battle of Bloody Marsh was fought right here on St. Simons Island where the British defeated the Spanish- driving the Spanish out of Georgia for good and settling the line between GA and Florida. Incidentally, only two British soldiers died- one in the battle, and one of heatstroke.
And so, in a fit of experiential education, we decided to be Spanish explorers in our own woods. We talked about how they were loaded down with armor. We talked about what they would have been looking for. We dressed in long sleeves, hats and long pants. Ray wore his raincoat, to be “Red and Gold” Spanish armor. We brought paper and pencil to make maps. We biked to the edge of a path that cuts through the woods between a church and the road, because we decided that our neighborhood probably didn’t look like it did when the Spanish where there so it wouldn’t be “cheating” to bike there. There was great excitement, great planning and giddy expectation.
The children strode boldly into the woods on the path, Ray running ahead, swinging wildly at tree branches in his way.
“Stop!” I commanded. “Explorers did not have paths! Explorers had to MAKE paths”.
The children stopped and looked at me with eyes agog. “You mean, off the path?” they whispered and we stepped out into a woods suddenly grown deep and mysterious. The sunlight slanted through the green and the mat of leaves underneath looked sinister with shadows. Water dripped off of the leaves from a recent rain. It felt like a primeval forest. We bent to move past vines hanging off trees and avoided the deeper part of the thickets. The matted leaves were so thick that there didn’t seem to be any solid earth under our feet. Rotting trees lay all around us, going back to the swamp that we were right on the edge of.
“Look where you put your feet,” I warned.
“WHY?” they screeched.
“Because I don’t want you to step on any snakes,” I said, and just like that, terror struck my poor daughter. She ran against my side, crying and panicking. I put my arm around her and we walked together, through land untouched by human feet, or so it felt. Ray was ahead, clearing a path, looking carefully as he jumped, picking up sticks and sticking them into rotting trees. I convinced him not to turn anything over since we weren’t sure what creepy-crawlies might be lurking. Emily’s shoes got muddy as she jumped across a creek. We looked at the ferns and the leaves of the trees. The heat and humidity were all around us. A bird caw made us all jump. Mapmaking got abandoned as the lack of a fixed point became a problem. “Can you imagine trekking through this with armor and gear?” I asked. I got a resounding “NO” from my not-quite-intrepid explorers.
We lasted 15 minutes before they turned back onto the road and back to “civilization”. “I don’t want to be an explorer!” Emily said and my daughter vigorously nodded her head. Ray looked disappointed and scratched his leg.
“I don’t want to be an explorer!” Ray echoed 10 minutes later with the “itch” turned out to be a tick. I frantically pulled off his clothes, and we scraped 6 more off of him. We all raced to the bathrooms, throwing off clothes, and took showers, feeling the creepy-crawly sensation all over us. No one else had a tick on them, but we’re all still anxiously checking every few minutes.
As I stood in the shower, I reflected on two sad things:
- Exploring through the woods was one of my favorite things to do when I was a child. I would spend hours in the forests around our house, playing house with carpets of pine needles and trying to catch sight of the fairies that I just knew lived down in the little dip filled with violets. I was so sad that my children don’t get that experience of being in the wilderness… but then, my woods had no coral snakes hiding in the leaves. My woods had no boggy patches filled with water moccasins. My woods had ticks, but not nests of them. My woods didn’t have the possibility of a hardy alligator hiding in it. My mother instincts quite overpowered the sense of adventure today.
- This generation of children is having their “Adventuresomeness” taken out of them. Because of standardized tests, because of the tremendous pressure of failure, because of the proliferation of choices provided by others and not having to create their own, children these days don’t know what to do when the greatness of choice and exploration provides itself. They’re used to the road, the path, the “civilization” of it all. Fear and discomfort and anxiety keeps us in the present, keeps us in the known. I only hope that today opened up a little adventuresomeness in my children today. Adventuresomeness that doesn’t have ticks.
A friend of mine from high school is part of the Space Exploration Falcon 9 liftoff that happened today.
There are still explorers and there are still places to explore. I hope that my children are part of the adventure.