Why Adults Should Play in the Woods

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The retired science teacher jumped up from his hiding spot in his garden and grabbed my arm before I could escape.

It happened in the mid-1970s when I was playing a game we neighborhood kids invented called “Fugitive.”

Each summer night 15 or 20 of us would participate. Whoever drew the short straw was assigned to be the guard at the base camp.

Everyone else scattered into the woods. The goal was to touch a tree in the heart of the base camp before the guard could identify you.

We hid behind hills and rocks and crawled on our knees and bellies in the dirt and grass hoping to avoid detection.

That’s exactly what I was doing near old man Miller’s garden, unaware he’d been lying in wait for the lousy kids he accused of trampling his garden plants.

Mr. Miller demanded I take him home to my parents so he could lodge a complaint, so, unable to escape his firm grip, that’s what I did.

That old memory came back to me as I read about yet another study that found that because children are not getting enough exposure to “green spaces” or nature, they appear more likely to develop things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

As any mother knows, this is scientific confirmation of the obvious.

For many years – until our kids’ minds and bodies became captives of the Digital Age – childhood play meant spending the summer in the woods climbing trees and building forts.

We were never bored or “hyperactive” because we were constantly outside stimulating our minds and imaginations and nurturing every one of the senses we use to navigate and understand the world.

“We don’t yet know why it happens,” says Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” “but when all five of a child’s senses come alive, a child is at an optimum state of learning. Creativity and cognitive functioning go way up.”

Woods explains that if kids can’t unleash their senses in nature, they lose their sense of being rooted in the world.
Rooted in the world?

That reminds me of terms that are not used much anymore, such as “down to earth,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “demure, humble and unpretentious” and “earthy,” which Merriam defines as “plain and simple in style.”

The origin of these terms is not clear, but being in the woods certainly teaches one to be humble and unpretentious.

Unfortunately, though, as Americans have moved from the countryside to large metros, millions of us have lost any sensual connection with the woods and nature.

As a country we need to get back to the woods more as adults. We need to go camping and wake up on a chilly, dewy morning agitated by the lack of urban comforts.

We need to be humbled and brought back to our “common senses” by the sounds, views, smells and demands of nature – so that maybe we can avoid some of the pretension and smugness that is negatively impacting our public discourse and bringing us so much government nonsense.

Incidentally, the night old man Miller brought me home, I thought I was in big trouble.

But my parents laughed at the old man’s angry pretentiousness as soon as he left. It was the first time in my childhood they didn’t side with an adult over me.

Lucky for me, both of my parents are down to earth!

Copyright 2021 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact [email protected] or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at [email protected]