During a recent canoe trip to the Northern Maine Woods and Allagash Region in Maine, I found ample time to reflect on my life growing up in this outdoor sanctuary. The guests that I had the honor of guiding on this trip were particularly independent and “early to bed, early to rise” gentlemen, which allowed for solitude in front of our campfire with the crackling of split deadwood and the breeze overhead in the pines of our Donnely Point patrol base.
During these moments, my thoughts often turn to the past given that so much of my life has been (thankfully) spent in the outdoors. Without delving too deeply into the current and somewhat popular discussion of our increasingly housebound children, I wish only to state how thankful I am that my parents threw my brothers and I out of the house daily after breakfast to “go play” and “find something to do.” We did. When living in Pittsfield, Maine we would often be gone the whole day running from yard to yard as free range children playing wiffleball, then climbing apple trees and exploring “the gully” behind Maine Central Institute. Remarkably, this play and exploration was conducted without the supervision of adults or through an organized, facilitated “program” complete with release from liability statements from all concerned.
Our family’s move to the thriving metropolis of Burnham, Maine further opened our outdoor world with back lawn access to hundreds of acres of fields and forests, although without geographic access to our towny friends. This combination of wide open spaces to explore and the necessity of doing so alone without our childhood partners in crime introduced me to both the greater natural world, and my place in it. Exploring the woods and waters of Burnham was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with both the outdoors and the peace it brings.
Now, back to our kids with their endless supply of electronic distractions and over supervised lives. Had I not been peeled off my three-station black and white television and Saturday morning Scooby Doo cartoons to be involuntarily expelled from our house, I may have never had the opportunity to learn to love the outdoors. I thank my parents for this early development in my character, which I am sure had more to do with having five kids very young as it did with introducing us to the outdoors.
Of course, times have changed from when my sister (one year older) walked me to the first grade at the Manson Park School. Kids don’t walk alone anymore, anywhere. I get that. But we, as parents need to bring them into the natural environment as the legacy of free range, outdoor kids. By doing so, they not only learn about the beauty of the world in which they live, vice the alternative on a Grand Theft Auto or Black Ops video screen, they also learn about themselves. They learn where to find peace and simplicity in their increasingly complex worlds in addition to developing self-confidence, independence and their respective places in a much larger ecosystem. They learn perspective. Sitting in the silence of 17 foot canoe on Telos looking up at the cloudy summit of Katahdin delivers this message with clarity and in God’s own voice.
Finally, the outdoors is a child’s natural habitat. They are ultimately most comfortable and peaceful as ethereal beings in the presence of nature, once they are introduced to this world. I see this spark of discovery all the time as a Maine Guide watching kids’ first experiences in their outdoor sanctuary. They love it, even when they are complete strangers to this aspect of their own being. It is their legacy, your legacy and it’s time to come home. Have you looked outside today in Maine? What’s not to love?? Put on a sweater and your boots, and go for a walk with your kids, (now). You, and they, will be the richer.