Tuesday, July 31, 2007

If My Mother Had Known...

One of the barriers in connecting children with nature today is the perception parents have that we live in a dangerous world where child predators roam the streets looking for victims. While there are instances where child predators do prey on kids, the mass media has made the problem far worse than it really is. I would submit that kids themselves often contribute more to getting into dangerous predicaments than any predator's actions.

Take winter hiking. By the time I was 16 years old, I had been camping in the winter, at subzero temps many times. it was an obvious move in my mind to head up to where it was really cold, NH's Presidential Range. Here I am on the left, on the 5,800+ summit of Mt. Adams, a senior in high school, circa 1978.

We would head up to the mountains, with our -30 down bags and four season tents that we had worked all summer at Caldors to afford. Up we would hike, three miles, three thousand vertical feet to the above treeline winter wonderland on Mt. Adams, with its beautiful vistas, deep snow, and steep trails. Fortunately we really did know what we were doing, but we never had enough adrenline. So the next step was finding something more to do. Why not bring a toboggan? So we started tobogganing on cheap plastic sleds down the steep upper Spur Trail above Crag Camp. We did this for several years, until we were out of college. We would slide that trail all day long, in all weather. The next obvious step for some of my friends was to bring along their Snurfers. A snurfer was a piece of wood, shaped like a waterski, with a cord tied onto the nose that you would hang onto. Keep in mind this was 1976, about the same time Jake Burton was messing around with snurfers. Snowboarding did not exist yet.

This first shot is of a friend snurfing down the side of Sam Adams, a sub peak of Mt. Adams. As I recall this was 1977 and it was 10 below zero. Great snow at those temps.

Here's another shot of my friend Rich snurfing the Spur Trail, just at treeline. The wind was blowing that day and it was cold. He is going fast. Probably taken in 1978. What he could have done with a modern snowboard set up...

We were at home in the mountains, and these experiences, while dangerous to a point, built judgment and leadership skills that helped all of us as we matured. My mother would not have been happy if she had know the details of what we were up to, but she did trust us enough to let us go for it. If any child predators had tried to exploit or hurt us, we would have thrown the creep off the Crag in King Ravine.

These days of rampant parental permissiveness have maybe passed, which is too bad, as it was our parents that gave us the freedom to do these things, which helped build a relationship with natural places that sticks with us today.