Which way to the woods?

I was playing with the boys in the living room one afternoon. The TV was tuned to one of the cartoon channels they require, even when they are paying no attention to it. A Thursday afternoon in August is a pretty good time for a sports fan to watch cartoons, so I put up no argument.

I wasn’t paying attention to the TV either, until a particular commercial caught my eye. It was a Public Service Announcement extolling the virtues of exploring the forest. At least I assumed it was a PSA, unless there are for-profit forests springing up around the country, which there probably are. I’m inclined to conclude it was a PSA, as the forest visuals looked pretty generic, there being no water slides or Disney logos carved into trees.

I like the forest as much as the next guy, so I was all on board with the sentiment. I was just about to think to myself: “What a pleasant tribute to America’s forests” when I heard the final line of the ad. The voice-over advised me to go to a particular website to find a forest near me.

"Some day there will be some kind of talking box that would tell me what this thing is. I'll just poke at it while I'm waiting for technology to answer all my questions." (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

“One day there will be some kind of talking box that will tell me what this thing is. I’d better poke at it while I’m waiting for technology to answer all my questions.” (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

My jaw dropped. Really? I need to go online to find the woods? Is this what America has come to?

Okay, it is true that I practically grew up in the woods, so all I had to do was go out the front door to find acres of trees. But honestly, people in other walks of life are having a hard time finding the woods without the aid of computers? The very idea makes me sad.

My son is five years old. When he walks out the door of his house, he sees other houses all around. Yet, I am confident he can take me to the woods in any direction I choose. Yes, he might need the aid of a car to get there, but he doesn’t need the Internet. He is the Internet of finding the woods, because he’s a child.

If you’re having trouble finding a forest near you, you don’t need a computer; you need a kid. Kids have a strange and magnificent instinct for recognizing trees. If you are unsure what that clump of three-story-tall plants is, just ask a kid. They’ll help you figure it out.

camping online

A forest. I found it on the Internet. And I didn’t even have to put shoes on. That’s what I love about the Great Outdoors.

Or you could Google it. That’s probably more convenient, as it eliminates all that burdensome white noise of wonderment.

I don’t wish to leave the impression that children are good for only this one thing. They are not one-truffle pigs. In many respects, they are just as useful as computers. In case your search engine is giving you mixed results, here is a short list of things kids can help you locate.

  • Dirt
  • Mud puddles
  • Dog poop
  • Diamonds that are probably quartz but just might be shattered glass
  • Bugs (dead or alive)
  • The meaning of life

But there’s probably a web site to help you find each of these things, too. So, either way . . .

Nothing lime can stay

Kids today have lots of stuff we never had. More options might make life easier. More options don’t make life simpler. I don’t know where the prefect balance between easy and simple lies, but there are simple pleasures from my childhood I hope my boys can still experience:

Healthy competition:

When I played Little League, we won some and we lost some. Consequently, we felt happy after some games and dejected after others. Either way, a pat on the head, a soft ice cream cone, and an hour of swimming it off put the game into perspective as a minor piece of our lives.

Today, we seem to have taken competition to extremes. In one corner we have Ma and Pa Jockstrap. They can’t keep their spittle out of the umpire’s face because they will not allow anyone to stand in the way of Little Jimmy Jockstrap’s ascent into the Hall of Fame, regardless of Jimmy’s average skills or even his lukewarm desire to play the game.

In the other corner, handing out trophies to every kid in their zip code, are Mr. and Mrs. Overprotective, who fear that the loss of a T-ball game will rob their four-year-old of the confidence he needs to be just exactly as successful in life as all of his peers.

Nobody else can make you better than you are; nor will life allow you to be a winner every single day.

Arithmetic:

Rise of the machines

How do you insert the graph paper?

Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like it is no longer necessary to learn arithmetic in order to do math. I’ve never owned a graphic calculator; I don’t even know what they do. But I once was real friendly with graph paper, also with protractors and compasses. We didn’t have any math beyond basic calculus in my high school, but we could handle this (+) and this (-) and these (x), (÷) with pencil and paper, or on our bony little Hillbilly fingers. We didn’t need Excel to add columns for us.

Nowadays, if a kid can do basic addition in his head, they put him on Good Morning America so everybody can gawk at his freakish talent. I hope my sons learn basic arithmetic because I want to hang out on the set of The Today Show. Besides, (and I’m just doing the math here in my head) there may not be enough money in the back to school fund for graphic calculators.

Lime flavored stuff:

An all time classic

You can never go home again.

Back in the day, green lollipops were to die for. Whenever you put some kind of green candy into your mouth, you knew you would be rewarded with a robust lime flavor. There used to be things you could count on, and one of those was that green equaled lime.

Lime is the Latin of flavors now, a rare novelty to the tongues of the modern world. Some companies (I’m looking at you, Starburst) have cut green pieces out of their original lineups altogether. Others have replaced lime with off-green flavors like sour apple and watermelon – flavors that make a mockery of the color. I go out of my way to find popsicles that include lime among their flavors. I do it for my boys. Because a world without lime might as well be a world doused in strawberry syrup.

What things from your youth do you hope your children will experience?