let kids run wild...but with respect

Emma Marris recently posted an article on Slate, speaking with a former park ranger Matthew Browning and others, and arguing in favor of letting kids explore nature however they want, whether it's climbing trees or collecting rocks or building forts or digging holes, wherever they find nature...even in a national park. At first I was like, "Yeah!" Then I was like "Wait a second..."  

Kids AND adults do need to explore and investigate nature. It's good for the soul and creates a tangible connection between ourselves and the world. BUT national parks are set aside for a reason. And the large numbers of visitors to these popular destinations means the "nature" within a national park is automatically more highly impacted than other natural areas. No one can selfishly treat these places as belonging to just themselves. Public lands must be shared, and they must be left how we would wish to find them.

But after millions of kid-hours of use by children gleefully doing their worst, these play zones remain functioning natural areas. The damage wrought by kids was comparable to that from hiking or camping. 

Letting kids "do their worst" is not teaching them to respect and admire nature.  Nature CAN be a playground...but it is so much more. The article implies that national parks are stuffy with a policy of Leave-No-Fun.  The counter-offer is the creation of designated free-play areas within national parks where kids could do whatever they want to the plants, animals, and earth found in the zone. It's an interesting idea, but perhaps one that should be applied in cities, residential areas, and in place of structured playgrounds...the places kids explore everyday.

Kids do need unstructured playtime, and they do need to experiment and explore...but we humans spend so much time bending nature to our own desires, it's valuable to teach children to stop and quietly observe what's going on around them. Watch, listen, smell. Be IN nature, not ABOVE nature. National parks in particular provide this opportunity, and were in fact created for it. Stewardship, preservation, sustainability, and conservation are the words and actions children need to learn, but first they need to understand why. To understand why they need to see it and experience it as it is, not as an amusement park. Furthermore, they need to see the adults in their world respect and SHARE nature. There's plenty of wild on-trail and within the rules.

where wednesday [caboose]


In early 2003 I was an intern in the education office at Joshua Tree National Park.  I was able to choose between either really nice barrack/dorm housing with the park fire crew, or a caboose. Easy choice! An awesome older couple built their dream house just outside the park entrance near the education office, and on the property they had a refurbished caboose (great for the grandkids!) they rented to me.  


my caboose, the owners' amazing house, and my oldsmobile ♥

I can't find any pics of the interior...but I'll describe it to you. When you walked in the front door (closest to house), there was a bunk bed on the right and a single bed on the left. There was a little table and a nice place to sit, a tv (I got DVD's of The Sopranos at Blockbuster), a space heater, a tiny closet, and a little hot plate.

I was in Joshua Tree February to May, and the caboose wasn't insulated, so at night it was COLD.  Scott came to visit (he was living in Santa Barbara) and we rigged up a blanket curtain to hold the heat in the sleeping area. By the end of April during the day it would be HOT (still cold at night). What do you expect from a big metal box? I could climb into either side of the cupola (the 'second floor') and sit and read and watch the desert for coyotes and tortoises...


In the back of the caboose was a full fridge and a shower stall.  I washed my dishes in the shower!  There was a door at each end so I could open them up and get a little desert breeze moving through.

I would wake up to the sounds of mourning doves and the sight of clear colorful sunrise skies. I would crunch down the driveway to walk up to the office, pausing to let big gopher snakes cross the path. I loved my time in Joshua Tree and I think about it all the time...not only because of the landscape and the cool job I had, but because I lived in an amazing little home. It was so cozy and perfect for me...I loved my little caboose! Thanks for letting me share my memories!

Where Wednesday is    a series       about     places that are  important to us, be they   work  spaces,    outdoor      spaces,    sleeping spaces,  places we   visit,  places we    live,  places   we   drink    coffee, etc. etc.

[do you want to talk  about a  place or space that's important  to you? let me know and I'll  set you  up with a Wednesday!]

patched up


I made my everyday bag [not really much of a purse girl] a little more awesome using some souvenir patches and Unique Stitch ("sew with a tube") glue.  It was way faster than my hand-stitching and didn't punch a bunch of little holes in the thick waterproof fabric [no they did not pay me or give me free glue to say that]. I'm trying to get over my fears of permanence and imperfection, and while I'm at it showoff a little more of my style and personality...so far so good!