Here we have yet another chapter in the ongoing 'demonization of Nature' saga that plagues North American society.
On Memorial Day, a family from Indiana went out for a walk in a nearby nature preserve. It’s a place that they frequently visit, the site of a former Boy Scout camp, with hiking trails, a mixed deciduous and coniferous forest, sandstone formations, and a creek. The two little girls did what many normal children would do on a hot sunny day: they stripped down to their underwear and raced into the water to splash and cool off. The parents didn’t mind; they were watching from close by while enjoying the beautiful day.
A half hour later, the day took an unexpected turn and the parents found themselves with a ticket, a fine, and a court date. Why? Because the daughters had engaged in “unauthorized swimming.” The officer said he was “letting them off easy this time” by not fining them for “getting off the trail” and “disturbing wildlife.”
Their mother, a blogger who has requested anonymity for this story, asked the police officer why kids aren’t allowed to play in the water anymore. He gave an answer that any outdoors-loving parent would find utterly absurd:
“[Swimming was allowed] a long time ago, before this became a nature preserve. The only thing you’re allowed to do here now is walk on the trail. That’s it. We have these rules to keep you safe too. There are some loose rocks, and other dangers. The creek is a health hazard as well. Manure from the farms upstream gets in the creek and the kids can get infected with e-coli.”
This story is utterly infuriating and heartbreaking at the same time. Here we have a family that has decided to spend Memorial Day outside with their kids, and yet they are told what they’re doing is wrong.
Nature is continually demonized by society today, portrayed as being inherently dangerous and full of risks not worth taking. But a child who grows up outside will learn to appreciate it and will likely view nature as a refuge from the chaos of human settlements. They will also learn how to handle themselves outside, which conquers irrational fear. If a bit of sacrifice and risk take place in the process, it’s worth it to raise children who turn into conscientious, planet-loving adults.
What business does the state have telling responsible parents how to do their job? This is a familiar debate, currently raging in the wake of the free-range parent incidents in Maryland (read about it here), and this particular story shows yet again how misplaced the state’s concerns are. The officer and the legislators whose orders he follows are missing the target. The issue should not be children splashing in a creek on a hot day, but rather the farmers upstream whose manure and pesticide use contaminates the creek, making it potentially unsafe for children.
There is something very wrong with a world in which we try to shelter children from the damage being wrought by adults without ever holding the adults responsible or making them stop their destructive behavior. Instead, the children suffer the consequences.
One of the greatest responsibilities that parents have – although, sadly, few acknowledge it – is to teach our children to love and care for the planet. But how are we supposed to do that when roadblocks are constantly thrown up, right, left and center? I’ll tell you how: We resist it. We keep taking our kids out. We insist on our collective right to use the natural spaces that remain. We refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer.