Open fields afforded a new learning adventure each day

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“To the west of our orchard, the field began, running so deep there was no end in sight. The children loved to set off across the wide grassy boundary that we had kept as a walking path. I knew they were safe as could be, and stories of adventure would be heard around the supper table hours later.”

— Gladys Taber

Part Two

For those who are quick to criticize the youth of today for sitting inside far too much, I challenge them to consider all that is no longer available to many children in the great outdoors.

I realize more and more as I age that we were incredibly lucky to have been raised where — and when — we were. Growing up on a family farm in the 1960s and ’70s had to have been one of the last of the best times and places to have been a kid.

There was no fear of strangers, though of course we were taught basic common sense when it came to dealing with those we did not know. And by that I mean at least being aware of a family connection to someone.

“Oh, yes, that guy is somehow connected to Mrs. Austin who punches our lunch tickets every day,” was enough to know.

Children differed

I think quite often about how my own childhood differed from the youth of my children. Even though they were lucky to have been able to play with great imagination in the outdoors, the boundaries were far more limited.

They couldn’t take off walking or riding a bike after their chores were done, exploring fields and valleys and overgrown woods as both of their parents had been able to do. One gift I will never forget as a kid, through the magic of hand-me-downs, came a toy water canteen with a screw-off lid, something I had dreamed of while watching all the cowboy shows of that era.

The small canteen had already sprung a leak, so it didn’t last long, but it was treasured nonetheless. It seemed like the coolest thing any kid could ever hope to own.

We could take off walking, stopping by the tree house we had made ourselves (with the help and determination of cousin Chris, visiting us every now and then) and hiking in any direction from there.

We could be gone for a few hours, searching for whatever struck our fancy. Elderberries grew wildly abundant along one particular border fence, and we knew the picking and plucking of those tiny berries would prove worth the effort.

Rambling hike

There were times a rambling hike might mean the discovery of mushrooms, or crossing a newly-plowed field to get to the creek could pay off with an arrowhead in a pocket. So many times, though, a day of exploring was filled with big imagination which often involved loading our pretend guns with invisible ammunition.

We might stop enormous bears and panthers and all sorts of scary predators right in their tracks.

My sisters would point out wildlife prints left in a muddy trail, most likely raccoon or fox, and those would easily grow into something much larger in our adventurous minds.

Along with this, we would fish in the stream, spotting minnows that could easily turn in to enormous pike fighting on our imaginary fishing line.

Meeting cowboys

Sometimes we would meet up with cowboys, and offer them our entire daily catch out of the goodness of our hearts. It might sound strange to anyone who never lived it, but we learned to be adventurous and kind in this imaginary way.

I remember ending the day with a warm feeling of having been generous, returning with only a few flint scraps in my dirty pockets to show for a long day out on the dusty trail.

And Mom’s good cooking tasted mighty fine at the table on such evenings. We had gone hungry when we gave our catch of the day away to those cowboys traveling through, but we were blessed with all the steak and potatoes our little bellies could hold.

Part One

Meet me by the old oak tree

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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