Last Child In The Woods

“Today I’m teachin’ you to trap rabbits.”

My life, up to that point, had never necessitated that I hunt or trap my own food. No one has ever let me hold a gun or a cross-bow or a particularly high-quality sling shot. I keep a Swiss Army knife so I can cut the tags off of new clothes. So, there I am, in the middle of nowhere with Cody, my surly, southern wilderness guide, and he wants me to trap rabbits.

Let’s go back a little. In August of last year, I moved to Chapel Hill from San Francisco. I’ve spent most of my life carefully steeped in coastal culture and fair trade coffee. I don’t eat meat. I own hemp shoes. I’m a good Californian. Last November, in a campaign to sway my West Coast allegiances, my roommates planned a weekend trip to the mountains; to Sparta. The whole event had a club-initiation sort of flavor. Like maybe they were going to drive me out into the forest and leave me to fend for myself.

My roommate, Britt, brought along her little brother, Cody. Cody is the sort of colorful Carolinian that I’d only read about; the kind that owns guns and a bowie knife and says things like “That’s crazier ‘n two hells.” He immediately assumed responsibility for my education. He named Dogwoods and Birches and Sumacs and taught me how to spot a deer rub. I realized I’d never seen fall before. Not really. Not in the way they show it on postcards and TV. I was mooning over the idyllic view when Cody cracked his knuckles and said, in his slow drawl:

“Today I’m teachin’ you to trap rabbits.”

“I’m a vegan.”

“You don’t have to eat it.”

“Will we hurt it?”

“Nah, I’ll slit his neck before I skin ‘im.”

In spite of myself, I was intrigued. Did I want to take my twine and  my pocket knife and build make-shift rabbit traps? Yeah. Yeah, I  really did. The view was nice, but he was offering me a chance to be a  kid again. The kind of kid who climbs trees, walks creeks, and makes  rabbit traps from twine. A kid whose hands and feet show the brown wear of play. Kids like Cody are a dying breed. I mean, I spent my squirrely years playing outdoors, but I never knew nature in the  hands-on way that Cody did, and most of my peers never had the chance.

In Richard Louv‘s book, Last Child in the Woods, he talks about the decreasing exposure of children to nature. The reliance of today’s kids on technology for entertainment is a bigger problem than we think, because going outside is more than just getting your daily dose of vitamin D. Kids aren’t developing a healthy connection to the natural world, childhood obesity is on the rise, and ADHD and depression are linked to too much time indoors. Not going outside has become a a serious affliction–Louv calls this condition Nature-Deficit Disorder.

In these first few days of Spring, as the weather warms and the trees start to bloom, join the Louvs and the Codys of the world and go play outside. You don’t have to drive to the nearest mountains to go play. Turn off the TV and the radio and go toss a Frisbee or take a bike ride. Or, my personal favorite, take a blanket to the park and lay out with a good book.


p.s. We never did catch anything.

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