Adventures in Childhood

Let me put together several recent conversations I had with my kids into a single narrative.

“Dad, what did you study in college?”

“Well, I majored in Biology…though I have a liberal arts degree.  That means I took more classes than I could have, with a wider focus than you might suspect but still spent 40 hours/week dissecting dead cats and sharks for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy.  I also had a job on campus caring for animals in the Biology department.  I raised rats and mice, cared for the snakes and lizards and cleaned the salt-water aquariums.  But mostly I tried to convince your mother that I was the right guy for her while working several jobs at once so we could finish college with minimal debt.”


“Well, yes.  But also salamanders and frogs and turtles.  In fact, when we look through Tom R. Johnson’s book, “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri” I have observed or collected nearly everything pictured short of the toads that are only common in Western Missouri.”

“Yeah, but…Snakes?”


“Yup.  Snakes.  Lots of them.  Most of the snakes that live here are safe to handle and, if you are careful how you act around them, actually seem to like it.  To them, you’re just a warm tree.  Tom Johnson’s book indicates that there are probably 3 Prairie Kingsnakes for every acre.  Now, to be sure, ask me before you go picking up snakes.  There are a few around here that can really hurt you and one you may be allergic to.  Here, hold this Prairie Kingsnake. ”

“Where did you find it?”

“The neighbors are cultivating their field to plant beans.  That ruined his habitat so he was crossing the road looking for a new home.  Since we have acres and acres of grass he’ll probably find a home here.”

PrairieKingsnakeAnd that’s how it goes.  We talk about stuff.  We go out and do stuff.  We take pictures of stuff.


Beyond the wildlife, there’s cool dead stuff out here too!  My cousin’s bull died in the creek two or three summers ago and with the recent rains the bones resurfaced.  It’s an exciting time of discovery…and work.  They dig for cow bones in the creek bed then haul them over hill and dale to our back porch.  I think they want to re-assemble them…like I need a bull skeleton in my living room.  Hmm…let me know if you want a cool bull skeleton in your living room.  We haven’t found the skull yet.CowBones

But it’s not all work.  Sometimes it’s just fun to get wet.CreekSwim

Or pick up a dead frog.  Whatever.

DeadFrogMoving out here wasn’t necessarily the best financial decision we could have made but none of the children in our former subdivision have excavated cow bones from a creek bed.  I drive a long way to work each day.  I think it’s worth the sacrifice.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe my kids will be in therapy after years of helping butcher chickens, swimming in creeks, fighting off ticks and going potty in a bucket.  Who knows.  Maybe they would have been in therapy if we had lived in the suburbs and taken them to ballet.  At least they will be physically strong and healthy as they sit on the therapist’s chair.  Maybe they’ll give the therapist something interesting to listen to for once.  There is the very real possibility that my kids will be able to handle what life throws their way…that they will be well-adjusted, thoughtful, caring, curious, intelligent men and women of God who don’t need a therapist, just a little time for reflection in the woods.

12 thoughts on “Adventures in Childhood

  1. Headless bull skeleton in the living room, perfect. Kind of a reverse fashion statement from the one that dictates mounting a hunting trophy head over the mantel piece.

    I have always strongly believed that kids don’t start out life thinking things are icky and gross and dirty etc. When they’re babies, they get into everything, touching, tasting, smelling…it’s how we’re designed to figure out our world, and your kids are lucky that they live in a place and with people who encourage them to continue learning that way. It’s perfectly possible for non-farm kids to have these experiences too, but parents have to work harder to put their kids into those opportunities, and I think that in the race to be financially successful and to be like everyone else, the time it takes to let nature take it’s course is way too slow to fit into the schedule.

    You and Ben Hewitt are on the same wavelength today – he has a great quote from Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods):

    • Yes, city parents have to work harder. Outside of the garden it wasn’t happening when we lived in town. We were the weird people with the compost pile. The weird people who cooked supper. The weird people with one car (paid for). The weird people who used the library and didn’t have cable. But that was about the limit of weird in town. Had I brought home a cow skull I would not have been invited to chat over the fence.

      Maybe I should go back to that neighborhood and be the weird guy gathering acorns in the fall. Free pig feed.

    • LIKE, but to be fair, I roamed these same hills and waded and ice skated on the same creek, but sometimes I really hated the loneliness – and I went to public school.

    • I hope they treasure it. My mother expressed a sense of isolation when she was a kid here. There are ways to solve that problem but it is important that the kids don’t resent the limitations of the farm but instead enjoy the possibilities. Hard when everything we do is so counter-cultural.

  2. Your kids live the good life and they will appreciate it even more as adults. My favorite childhood activities were playing in the creek, walking in the woods, going to grandparents’ farms, etc.

  3. Needing therapy isn’t always the result of environment. I don’t want to debate Skinner’s theories here, but sometimes people need therapy and I’m not into laying blame on environment. Sometimes there isn’t much a parent can do except do their best and get their child the help they need. (Isn’t Skinner the Nurture vs Nature guy?)

    • I don’t know. I was just joking around, not meaning to be insensitive to those who need professional help to work through some rough spots. I do recognize major differences between what my city co-workers believe is a crisis and what I believe is a crisis…then compare that to what Aunt Marian thinks is a crisis. There is a certain level of just dealing with it out here.

  4. I made a similar decision, and move, years ago and don’t regret it at all. Our two kids have both finished college now and launched into the world. I am absolutely convinced that their childhood on the farm will be a blessing to them (as it was for me) no matter where life takes them.

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