It began before video games became a way of life, before riding a bicycle, climbing a tree, or telling stories around a campfire almost died. It was the ’80s, and to some of us, arguably one of the best decades in the last 100 years. It was the time that made boys real men and girls colorfully feminine. There was no confusion of who were or what you wanted to do. You were either in or out. It was that simple.
It was also the time when the outdoors was best friends with children and teenagers. The outdoors is quite special and truly there is nothing like it in all the world. It has a habit of cultivating adventure, inquisitive thinking, confidence, and humble leadership in everyone it touches. It whispers to you in the quiet of morning to wake up and makes the sunshine seem happier if you are out in it. Even in the dark of night or winter storms it playfully gives you thrills, tingles, and pulls you out into the rain to put the shouts, giggles and joy into you. Nobody can escape its touch if you grew up outside of the city. It’s just the way it is. And so it was with me.
Today it must find itself lonely and sad that many are deaf to its voice. Sometimes I think it must has immigrated outside of the U.S. and can only be found in South America, Africa, Asia, Australia or the islands.
I remember when it first called my name. It was right before I was ten years old. I responded to the luring sound past the Douglas Fir and Redwood trees to watch the bobcats, wild quail, domesticated goats and sheep in the pastures by myself about a quarter of a mile from our house. I would bring a notebook and pencil and record all the activities of my “friends” and “enemies.”
I called it “research.”
I would sit for minutes which I thought were probably hours detailing all their movements, what they ate, and would even find myself talking and naming the ones I was fond of. I wonder if that is how Adam did it when he was created.
It was also there that I found courage against the antagonistic coyotes or wild dogs of the Californian mountains. Back then parents were not the weak confused people they are today. Parents of children had convictions and they stood by them – good or bad, and they raised their children to be strong and independent. It did not matter what sex they were. Today parents are dogmatic and stubborn in their thinking. They usually lack discipline, guidelines, logic, and common sense, and unfortunately they mistake this as conviction and strength.
One early morning, way before sunrise when it was still dark and barely a moon, I recall my father waking me up and telling me that I needed to go and flip on the electric switch down in the pasture, and check on the sheep from some predator. I thought he was joking. When I realized he wasn’t, I begged him to reconsider as I did not want to go out into the cold night by myself to check on what I considered to be some monster in the field. He insisted, gave me a big stick, and pushed me out of the house to walk a quarter of a mile away with my younger brother to check on their bleating and to flip the switch in the electrical box.
My father is a very caring man and never lifted his hand against us in all my years, so there was no question of his love and protection over us – and yet when I look back on this – I do not know how he made this decision. Today if a parent did this the neighbors a mile away would probably call CPS [Child Protection Services].
That night had a foreboding chill and it wrapped us in it, and no heavy sweatshirt we wore could shake it. As we walked past the gate towards the pasture with the tall pine trees bordering the area, I felt like there were unseen eyes quietly watching us and dark bodies hiding in the bushes. Ah yes, the great imagination of a ten year old. No one ever needs to see a horror movie in order to invent such feelings or images. They come on their own and create their own life in the minds of children.
When we got there, if there was a coyote, it was long gone. The sheep seemed comforted and we restarted the generator. My brother and I more confident after making it there alive and untouched by the Boogie Spirits or coyotes, laughed and then swiftly ran and walked back to the house.
The next morning I woke up with a strange taste in my mouth: excitement. I had gone in the dark of night “by myself” (okay so my brother was with me) and lived. Although I had not fought a physical animal or demon, I had struck a formidable foe that I would struggle and fight against my whole life: the spirit of fear. And it was a culmination of nights and days like that in which a spirit of adventure was born within me.