One of my favorite parts of my summer so far has been the couple times I’ve taken youth groups out to hike around in the badlands south of Boomtown. It’s gratifying for so many reasons, the first being that I, along with my partner in crime, Extension Agent Marcia, get to be the kids’ gateway to adventure, which I like to imagine makes us like super heros in hiking shoes.
Ok, that’s a little dramatic. But maybe it makes us at least kinda cool.
Anyway, in a town in the middle of an economic boom that’s making headlines across the globe, sometimes the little people get lost in the shuffle, so I’ve made it part of my mission to help when I can. Life’s been busy lately for so many of us trying to keep up with the demands of a town stretching and growing by the minute, but if I can help these kids out of the bustling elements for just a few hours I come home feeling like I’ve done something really worth while.
Plus, it’s a really great excuse for me to drop what I’m stressing about and focus on what it’s like to be a kid who just wants to climb to the top of the buttes and ask a million questions about whether or not that cow over there is a buffalo, if ticks can jump, what’s this bug on my ear and, umm, can you help me find the iPod I dropped in the long grass?
So that’s what I did yesterday with Marcia and my friend Megan, my partner in photography crime. We took almost 30 kids between third and sixth grade on a photography expedition
complete with a scavenger hunt and challenges and cactuses and humidity and yes, a million woodticks, that, according to Google, can not jump.
Now, I’m not great with kids, I will be the first to admit it. I treat them like tiny adults and sometimes I see their little eyes glaze over when I attempt to explain complicated things that, well, kids don’t really care about. But we get along fine. I release them into the wild and tell them to be careful of cactus.
Someone always gets into a cactus.
So off they went, covered in bug spray and that sweaty, dirty film kids get from running around outside in the humidity of summer. We took photos of our feet and photos of the sky, photos of the grass, photos of bugs, photos of our names in the dirt. We took photos of our hands and our friends jumping up in the air, photos of the road and a butterfly and dandelion puffs.
We took photos of our eyeballs, photos of the bus, photos of the buffalo that were really black cows and photos of footprint of a dog that we were certain was something wilder.
And when we were done taking photos by the picnic area, off we went to take photos on the trail, the group splitting up a bit, the boys running ahead and the girls hanging back to take on my challenge of photographing every species of wild flower they could find.
And there were dozens.
They took it seriously.
They were my kind of women.
Unfortunately for them, however, their trusty trail guide forgot her wildflower book at home and her memory is getting foggy in her old age. Needless to say I didn’t feel as wilderness womanly as I would have liked to when I had to reply to their questions with “maybe you should Google it when you get home.”
Well, it was either that or make something up, and, as we all know, I cannot tell a lie.
And, you know, their eyes. They glaze over.
Anyway, among the wildflower explorers was one girl in particular that pulled at my heartstrings and made me consider calling her mother and asking if she would let me keep her daughter. She was small and quiet, dressed in jean shorts and tennis shoes, her brown hair cut in a bob and her eyes wide with wonder, as if the task of finding every species of wildflower on the trail opened up an entirely different world to her.
She took it seriously, but not competitively. I watched her hang in the back of the line, getting down close to a sunflower to document it from all angles. I saw her touch them, examine them, study them and, I think, truly fall in love with them.
She couldn’t get enough. We’d been out in the wild hills of the badlands in the heat of the day for a few hours and this girl had her eyes to the ground. She gasped with delight at the discovery of a new species like the other girls, but she just took a little extra time.
She reminded me of me at that age and how I could have stayed out there forever. Even when the other kids were sort of melting and hungry and thinking it was time to head back, I found her wandering quietly behind the group, examining her world full of flowers.
I’ve been busy lately. I have been pushing myself and worrying about the little things. I have been racing the clock and working to fit things in.
This is what happens when you grow up.
I forgot that I never wanted to grow up in the first place.
Yesterday I was reminded that there is always time to wander.
And that’s why I hang with the kids.