Here there be dragons

An article worth reading, although it’s not a new complaint: Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood.

Though the wilderness available to me had shrunk to a mere green scrap of its former enormousness, though so much about childhood had changed in the years between the days of young George Washington’s adventuring on his side of the Potomac and my own suburban exploits on mine, there was still a connectedness there, a continuum of childhood. Eighteenth-century Virginia, twentieth-century Maryland, tenth-century Britain, Narnia, Neverland, Prydain—it was all the same Wilderness. Those legendary wanderings of Boone and Carson and young Daniel Beard (the father of the Boy Scouts of America), those games of war and exploration I read about, those frightening encounters with genuine menace, far from the help or interference of mother and father, seemed to me at the time—and I think this is my key point—absolutely familiar to me…

The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been abandoned in favor of a system of reservations—Chuck E. Cheese, the Jungle, the Discovery Zone: jolly internment centers mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked staff only. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armored as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby.

I’ll cut to the chase – past the arguments about crime statistics – and say that I think this trend is going to somewhat reverse, for some. As some American families and towns fall out of affluence over the coming years, there will be less time and energy to keep the kids away from the Wilderness — for better, or for worse.

4 thoughts on “Here there be dragons

  1. sean

    i’m really conflicted on all of this. i certainly agree that kids (my kids included) don’t seem to read like they used to read, and spend far too much time with absolutely awful TV (MTV, despite all its hip phoniess, is as terribly empty and sexist as anything on TV; check out some of the reality shows the kids love so much), and locked down with texting and facebook and everything else.

    but i also know that during my childhood, we sat on the floor and mindlessly watched black and white TV for hours upon hours, and that my folks saw the end of civilization in much of rock music, and there is a certain inevitability to each generation seeing the end of knowledge in the next. so i try to sift through that natural spasm in evaluating what’s going on – and i still come out of it feeling distressed.


  2. Ellen

    Well, there’s a ray of hope – studies show that teens don’t like Twitter!

    I was lucky to grow up in a neighborhood that had a “blank spot” nearby. I didn’t explore it much but it had a big effect on my imagination as a kid. I don’t think I would be “me” today, in fact, without that “wilderness” presence in my imagination. But by my grandparents’ standards I was probably grossly deprived of freedom. So I don’t know what to say either.

    What bothers me is the end result. I am not a teacher or professor, but I work in higher education and am around students a lot, dealing with them, every year I see them come and go and… well, they’re different now. They really are. I don’t know if it’s the tide of affluence we’re coming off now or just part of a passing phase. But while college kids today question things privately, they don’t really do it publicly any more. I can’t remember the last time any students had a protest on the Quad that actually made anyone uncomfortable. They seem very consumed with following all of the corporate “rules” to the letter, the rules (spoken and unspoken) laid down so they can enter the work world. Today you tell a “good” college student or even a high school student “Jump” and they say “How high?” And it makes me sad to think that the corporate world is screwing them worse than it ever screwed my generation.

    Anyhow, can’t say for sure what a lack of “wilderness” has to do with any of that, but it can’t be helping matters. OR, it could be I have passed the magical line into “bitter old fart.”

  3. Robinia

    Nah. “Bitter old farts” don’t want people to be more imaginative– quite the opposite. They harp on the rules.

    Things have, indeed, changed. Being an imaginative, nonconformist kind of person is not just more rare among the young– it has also gotten a lot harder for those of us who have struggled with it lifelong.

    Am now reading, and highly recommend, Bill McKibben’s “Wandering Home.” Will then go to the very place– Champlain Valley and wilderness/mountains around it, and wander around. Believe it is essential at any age. Only succeeded in getting my grandson to be able to join us for one of the days; will NOT stop trying.

Comments are closed.