Little House Virtues, and On the Banks of Watson Lake
Every so often I am reminded of what I knew daily as a child, and I feel sorry for my kids, poor little city kids. I regret that they don't experience the freedom of growing up in the country. True, they don't know what they're missing, but I do: the alluring sights, smells and sounds of abundant nature just outside your door; the ever-changing adventure of creek, field and forest; and the whole brave world of trouble country kids can get into that seems far more wild and wholesome than what can be found in the city.
I miss the country badly at times...
Can you tell I'm reading the Little House series again to my daughter Ana? In its chapters she senses she's missing out on something grand, a strange freedom, and we mull this over together; my daughter is a natural-born country girl, like me.
Right now we are reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, and more than the crazy, beautiful tales of a truly rural life told in the simple but eerily elegant prose of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I am enjoying all the nuggets of wisdom woven yet again into her tales of prairie life. Here are a few excerpts I have admired this time:
"Well," he said at last. "I hardly know what to do, Laura. You see, I trusted you. It is hard to know what to do with a person you can't trust. But do you know what people have to do to anyone they can't trust?
"Wh-at?" Laura quavered.
"They have to watch him," said Pa.
And, as true for adults as it is for children, this from Ma Ingalls:
"Once you begin being naughty, it is easier to go on and on, and sooner or later something dreadful happens."
And this beautifully sums up the spirit of Christmas:
And then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time.
Whenever anyone was unselfish that was Santa Claus.
Every child should read these tales, I think, to discover a world so different but so vibrant without technological trappings.
Every little bit I make a request to drive into the country on a long weekend or for a holiday...my birthday, say. I give him fair warning of my desire for fresh air, and, usually, he accommodates.
We stopped at a playground on the way that had a play fire truck with the names of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell Hill fire on June 30th, 2013. I thought that was a beautiful idea for a memorial - many of those men were dads - though my little ones didn't understand what it meant or who it commemorated.
Then we parked above the lake and hiked down to take our lunch on a big rock in the blustery wind. We saw some people propelling down a precipice nearby, and I remarked, "I'm not the adventure sport sort, but that's one thing I would do gladly: rock climbing."
Shoot! I was bound to eat those words.
My kids were rock climbing, alright. They were descending to the water to stare in wonder at all the tadpoles, tiny fish and crawdads. It's times like these when they show their city greenness. Yet we all gawked at the beautiful and iridescent blue dragonflies of various sizes that whizzed through the air above our heads and danced over the water at our feet. My son Berto tried to catch a fish in his palms and would have done it, too, if he had gotten past the slippery skin against his fingers. My daughter Ana gently scooped up tadpoles, and then set them free. All my children leapt across boulders and crossed narrow log bridges on their exploration.
And I, that lady who claimed she would scale rocks for pleasure - big rocks, and uphill all the way! - paused in trepidation at a two-foot gap between some slanted granite behemoths. The water flowing between was three inches deep at least. My husband and long-legged oldest children, Berto and Ana, jumped across effortlessly, but every time I tensed for the leap, I lost my nerve. I could just see my knees and fingertips scraping down the scaly surface of the rock before I sprained my ankle in the perilous, crawdad-infested shallows at the bottom.
Berto said, "Look, Mom. It's easy. You just jump."
Just jump. Now!" said Matthew again and again, but he waited in vain, because I was a yellow-bellied chicken.
When I finally spread my legs and sprang, prepared to die in my dare-devil ways, you'd assume the fear was conquered, but I couldn't go back.
"It's easier back," said Matthew. "The rock slants down this way."
No difference. The mental hurdles stalled me. If I could ever control my unbridled imagination, I would be darn near a superhero.
Matthew gave up on me, and it took pressure off. A few minutes later, I jumped back.
But to save face, I've decided that every time I tell that story I'm going to increase the length between those boulders and the depth of the water by several feet. Pretty soon I will have jumped 20 feet between the cliffs of insanity over a churning abyss.
On our way back up to the parking lot, following white dots painted on rock to mark the way for wayward hikers, we saw a toad. I can't remember when I last saw an amphibian; I kid you not. He was a tiny little guy and the color of the dells, a perfect fit in his environment.
Later, we drove to a dock and took a walk up a path. Though we saw masses of wildflowers and crowds of butterflies, we lost the sense of being in the country as the parking lot filled with canoe-laden pickup trucks, and the meandering path wound below a highway. But we did get to see some geese. I thought the gaggle was going to gang up on us and steal our remaining food. They followed us so closely.
But they just tried to intimidate us with their glassy stares and noisy honks.
It was a simple, short afternoon in the country, not nearly as solitary or unpredictable as the Minnesota prairie, but it was memorable and fed our appetite for more wild adventures. Who knows? I might even...someday, if the kids are lucky...convince my man to take us camping.
Now, wouldn't that be a hoot.
Just don't ask me to jump any big rocks on the way to the campsite.