Adventure Has Always Been Out There For Me

I tell my kids I’m old all the time. It comes in handy when I want to fain forgetfulness about what’s for dinner (because they probably won’t like my answer), where we’re going (because I like to surprise them) or if I generally just don’t want to discuss something with them (they always know I’m playing them, though).

But, when my youngest asked me the other day if I was able to watch The Wizard of Oz in color as a kid, I about died. She really believed I was actually old. Or she has no concept of technicolor history.

And then, as I finished dying her hair with cherry Kool-Aid (see? I’m not THAT old if I’m doing that) she asked what I did (with my life) as an only child growing up. And then I threw forgetfulness out the window.

“I explored,” I told her. “Outside.”

cliff pretend
Exploring a cliff made of lava in Hana.

Growing up in Michigan, there is a certain chunk of childhood that is spent indoors due to weather – read: a thunderstorm every Fourth of July, the windy and rainy and freezing Halloweens, and the below-freezing stretches that cancelled school. And because I couldn’t watch the NBA on TV outside, I was relegated to watching the games indoors. I was more than a little obsessed with the Bad Boys and the Bulls and, for some odd reason, the Knicks – a habit I have outgrown.

But, other than that, I was outside. A lot.

The day I discovered my childhood ski gear. 

After fogging the driveway so it was clear of biting horseflies, I’d practice dribbling or free throws, because I wasn’t good and needed all the work I could get.  I’d set up a pretend gas station in the driveway, and park my bike near the “pump,” which was actually a tree with a perfectly-placed Y in the trunk. I’d wander down into our backyard ravine, with a guide stick in hand, pretending I was an adventurer exploring the deep woods, or the frigid arctic, or a swampy rainforest – depending on the season and the gear I was required to wear.

And when I reached the bottom of the ravine, I’d go, following the little creek that ran inside it. Cross over downed trees, pretend I saw dangerous animals, and warn the group of ghost adventurers that I was leading about how dangerous the area was or what kinds of plants were down there – making up new species as I encountered new vegetation.  I’d tell my invisible crew to watch out for thorns, to steer clear of poison oak (even though I don’t even know if there was any down there) and to beware of the horseflies out front, which seemed to be the size of hummingbirds when I was a kid.

I’d explore muddy tracks and leave some of my own. And I’d ignore the house on the other side of that ravine, so it didn’t spoil my backcountry adventure.

santa cruz
Backcountry hiking, as a grown up.

As I got older, but before having kids, I kept exploring. I hiked up mountains, and took the side trail to see where it would lead. Often. I even trained for and participated in a three-day walk for cancer, bunking in a tent with a total stranger – just for the adventure of the whole thing.

I let go of a lot of adventuring for a long time, but rediscovered it over the past few years. And for a brief moment I thought I was only first discovering it. But remembering what I did as an “only child” only solidifies that who I am is who I’ve always wanted to be.

I lived in a city, but went to preschool on a farm. And even though I’m “old,” I somehow have that experience filed among my warmest memories. I was meant to try things. And explore. And be outside. And do things differently.

And I’m so glad I’m not too old to remember that – or too young to not realize that.

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