I grew up outside. Not as the wild child of Borneo or anything, I just didn’t stay in much. And if I was inside I was soon thinking about getting out to some new adventure. This could have be alone or with compadres, but the key was to find something fun to explore and do. I recall a day very vividly, before I was even in school, being outside alone in winter with my skates on. I had found a place where someone had started to dig a basement and piled up the earth beside the hole, creating a hill with a pond at the bottom. How perfect. I would clime up the hill and slide down on my skates onto the frozen pond at the bottom, with what seemed to me like the speed of an olympic bobsledder.
Other days I would wander in the woods behind our house and make forts, head out to the street to throw stones at passing cars, go push cats in the neighbours pram, and usually come home bleeding or crying or in some kind of trouble. In later years it was riding bikes through the woods, trails, roads, wherever we cared to glide. Still later it was throngs of kids playing street hockey, with the resounding call of “car!” just when you had a break away, frizbee golf on the street lights and neighbourhood games of hide-and-seek when it got dark.
Then there was the golf course. It had a long fairway right at our fence, where we would wait for the golfers to walk down a dip, then hop the fence and steal their ball, then hop back over and ask if anyone wanted to buy a golf ball- fifty cents. But the best part of the golf course was the water. There was a pond for winter hockey, and creek, both forbidden territory. Dozens of kids playing hockey in front of a “Stay Off/ Thin Ice” sign, ready to run at any sign of the White Truck coming to patrol. When it got too dark to see the puck anymore, we’d don frozen boots and trek home to thaw our toes, burning and tingling as they came back to life in front of the heater- a badge of honour.
Exploring the creek, however, was the height of adventure- where did it go when it went into that culvert? We became Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer going down river, with fear and excitement about what was around the next corner. We’d build dreadfully unsuccessful rafts in spring, watching them fall apart under our feet, and follow the creek as far as we dared when the water got low in summertime. Inevitably there were soakers, slips on wet rocks, gashed knees and other emergencies that would send us home without finding the creek’s final destination, but the lure of downriver would keep drawing us back.
Why am I telling you this? It’s because I don’t see kids anymore. I know they are out there as I have three myself, and they go to school with other ones. But they are not in the street yelling “car!” for me to negotiate the boots-as-goal-posts, and they are not running through the neighbourhood in great hordes of mischief. Where are they? I do see them at parks- safe, controlled, scripted areas set aside by municipalities. They are at home playing the latest video game, play station, Atari, or whatever is in vogue today. They are having adventure dictated to them- scripted, packaged and purchased adventure.
Charles Eisenstein says that if you want to make money, simply pick something that used to be available to all for free, take it away and sell it back. This is childhood adventure today- packaged and sold to us. Kids are not building rafts and exploring creeks- that sounds dangerous and besides, there are no more creeks available to them. Instead we have some creek exploring video game, which is even more realistic and exciting than an actual creek! In the safe watch of mom and dad, kids can do all the exploring that some software engineer has dreamt up for them.
How does this relate to paddling? I would contend that it is the love of adventure that has drawn us into paddling- the “what is around that corner” bug. I am also seeing a decline in the number of people taking moving water paddling courses and doing large trips. In the words of Al Gore, could this be related? If the kids of today are fed a steady diet of ersatz adventure, can we expect them to embrace dirt under your fingernails adventure in later life?
This is a call to take back adventure, to take back our neighbourhoods as play areas, to take back the street as a kid friendly play space. Let’s reject the prepackaged, prescribed and dictated, safe adventure of the video game and designated play structure. Let’s preserve some wild space in our cities from the developer. Let’s make Maple Creek Lane actually mean there is a creek there and not the latest suburb where there once was a creek.
The adventure bug bites early in life and sticks with us, but only if we are allowed and have the opportunity for adventure. Kids are resilient, tough, and have better judgment than we give credit for. There will be bruises, scrapes and tears, but they will survive it- you did, as did I, and we learned that the real world offers far more excitement that anything that can be packaged and sold to us. Let’s give kids the same opportunity that we had for loving adventure in nature, and we may just see more boats on the river.