Playtime in smalltown

MEEKER — Early morning walks often reveal strange sights in a small town. Long handled tool in hand, the woman was heading over to a cluster of trees shading the ditch. She seemed to be in no particular hurry.
Wondering what wild growing thing she could be tending, I asked, “What are you working on today?” I expected her to tell me that she had to dig up something under the trees or knocked down a couple of hornet’s nests. “Just taking down a fort that I just noticed in the tree,” she answered nonchalantly. Someone apparently didn’t check with the property owner before climbing up into the branches and nailing up a platform overlooking someone else’s kingdom. A kids-eye view might be that no one was using the tree, after all it was in a perfect spot to keep an eye on people passing by.
Growing up, my friends and I roamed throughout our small town on foot and eventually on our bikes. Our neighborhood had a hidden grove of trees in the way back yard of a friend. My brothers and I spent hours in the Wicky Woods (that was the kids’ name for it), and it never occurred to us that anyone owned it, and even if they did, that they would that care we climbed the trees, or built makeshift forts and catapults. These days, it is not safe for kids to go untended; to allow them to explore worlds beyond their backyards. In the cities even front porches and backyards aren’t safe. Small towns are not immune to these dangers, but supervision in a smaller area is so much easier. Neighbors and friends continue to keep an eye on kids.
It is reassuring that the perfect spot for a tree house did not go overlooked. When one usually discovers a crude wooden structure in a tree around here, the easiest explanation is that it was used for hunting. This tree fort was obviously a place of play, and the fact that the owner hadn’t noticed meant that it must have been a fairly recent addition. Social scientists keep alarming us with their reports that children don’t play anymore, that the time most of us spent exploring is spent in front of a computer or TV screen. Obese adults and obese children are the result of the changes inherent in a modern life these days.
Child’s play is certainly not gone in this small town. Children here continue to let their imaginations run wild. All the town (or the neighborhood) is there for the exploring, and the words “trespass,” or “property ownership” don’t come up in conversations. Imagination takes over, once the project has begun, and once a few flimsy boards are nailed together, they become a rocket ship, a sailing ship or a space station. The discovery of a tree fort in the yard of a family without children, a homemade raft of plywood sitting next to the town ditch, an old dirty plastic waffle ball and bat left in an empty lot, are only a few reasons many of us continue to live in this small town.

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