My childhood in a small town consisted
of playing outside and wandering around the neighborhood,
sometimes with friends and sometimes alone.
The town’s volunteer fire department and first aid squad
were summoned by siren.
My mother’s rule was:
when you hear the siren, come home so I know
you’re okay; then you can go out again.
My husband and I raised our children
in the city. They were not free to wander. Times had changed;
outside was not safe without adult supervision.
I rarely permitted them even to walk to school.
One summer the kids and I attended family church camp.
The children longed to wander in the woods.
I tried to keep my eyes on all of them, telling them
they had to stay within my vision. The elders advised,
“Let them go. They’re safe here.”
Releasing them to wander was one of the hardest things I’d ever done,
but it was the first time they experienced the freedom that
characterized my own childhood. As I walked in the forest,
I stumbled upon my own kids scrambling over boulders or
hanging from high tree branches. I experienced paradoxical
emotions of joy and panic at not being in control.
Back home we reverted to the usual rules. Better safe than sorry.
Now retired, my children grown, I often wander alone
through vast desert mountain parks. Though many others hike the trails,
they are only within my sight momentarily;
they walk so much faster than I, and the rises and dips and
the vegetation hide them from view.
My husband and my children express concern
over my solitude in the wilderness, and of course,
their point is valid; but I feel safe and content as