I mentioned this book earlier this summer after we built our tree house but I thought an official entry in my must read list was also necessary.
I grew up in a house in the "woods". My parents bought a wooded lot to build our house and wisely did not remove all the trees. At the back of our lot was a drop of about 200 feet to a railroad track. It wasn't a cliff but a very steep hill. The lot next to ours was sort of land locked and owned by the railroad and so was never developed. We were at the end of the road, not a cul-de-sac but a true dead end and for most of my childhood the road gave way to a farmers field, although I don't remember him ever planting anything near our home so it was always just a big grassy prairie. That was my childhood playground.
In the summer we lived back there. There was a tree on the side lot that had started up growing right on the edge of the hill and at some point had fallen over. But it's roots managed to find their way back into the ground and so this tree continued to grow, bud and spring new leaves every year. It was quite large by the time we found it and was the perfect place for a child to spend all day climbing, exploring and dreaming.
The hill down to the railroad tracks was also irresistible and we climbed/slid down it many summer days to lay pennies on the railroad tracks and wait for a train to come. Then we would run back to the hill and be hanging on somewhere halfway up the hill while the train came rushing by. It was never safe as the track was curved where we lived and could easily have snuck up on us, even as a child I knew it wasn't safe but it was so wonderfully thrilling. Then back down to find our flattened pennies. My brother spent an entire summer building a tree house next to a tree growing out of the hill. Complete with stairs and paths dug into the hill to get there.
While we didn't spend a lot of time in the grassy field we did run through it regularly enough to beat down a path. I remember one time running barefoot through the field and seeing a Gardner snake quickly crawl across the field right in front of my feet. It was terrifying and fascinating and while I did keep going I wore shoes out there a little more often after that.
There was also poison ivy. I spent many summers in misery with the bubbling blisters of poison ivy rash. I even remember missing school one time because it was so bad. But it never stopped me from going back. We had beat a path through the woods and eventually learned to stay on it. You would think I would be a master at identifying poison ivy after that childhood but sadly I am still not always sure if something is poison ivy or not. But I tend to err on the side of caution now that I am an adult.
It was the best kind of childhood. I didn't spend my summers off watching tv, I was out living life, experiencing, exploring. Those summers playing in the woods are part of who I am today.
And that is why I could not resist reading "The Last Child in the Woods". Because I had noticed that there aren't that many woods anymore and the ones we do find don't seem to want to let kids off the path. But while the paths are nice it is off the path where you truly experience nature and life. This book was all about the important role that nature plays in a child's development and encouraged me to seek out opportunities for my children to play and explore the way I did as a child. I wish I had found more but I know my kids have loved every moment they have spent in the woods and I hope they will continue to find joy in nature throughout their lives.