With the passing of author and Maine legend Donn Fendler, I couldn’t help but think to myself (aside from the incredible legacy he left behind): would my daughter be able to survive if she were “Lost on a Mountain in Maine?”
Toward the end of summer, she and I hiked Borestone Mountain in Guilford. It was a hot day and I didn’t bring enough water.
In an attempt to distract myself from the need to hydrate, I told Lexi to be the trail leader (if you have a young child, you know how thrilling it is for them to be “first”). Letting her go ahead also meant she had to make sure we stayed on the trail by following the “orange marks.”
“But don’t all the paths go somewhere,” she asked? I laughed. A part of me wanted to quote Robert Frost and tell her, in life, yes, take the road less traveled, but then I remembered she just turned 7. And we were in the middle of nowhere. So I kept the philosophy lesson in my backpack (next to my near-empty water bottle) and used the opportunity to explain safety in the woods.
As we neared the top, I recall wanting to turn around, knowing the shade from the trees would soon leave us. Instead of voicing my desire to end the hike early, I told Lexi how proud I was of her and how her enthusiasm inspired me to keep going.
We passed two boys in their late teens who were coming down and one of them said to us: “Don’t stop at the first peak. The view from the farther one is even better.” This is the moment I remembered when asking myself today if Lexi could survive on her own in the woods. Because let me tell you, if I did not agree to hike to that second peak, she would’ve asked to go on her own.
There’s this fine line between adventure and safety that can be hard to navigate as a parent. I’ve never been that Mom that utters the phrase “be careful.” I get why parents do it and of course I’ve said it countless times internally (including the day at Borestone), but I want Lexi to know that most of the time fear is created by “what-ifs.” By thinking too far ahead. It’s funny because she never goes too far. By giving her freedom she, ironically, has learned her limits.
Then again, Fendler’s family probably felt the same.
Perhaps more importantly than wondering whether or not our children are equipped for survival is simply giving them the opportunity to get lost. Let’s not be a society where our kids know more about “How to survive in the woods” from Google than from actually being outdoors.
(Oh, and one more thing, invest in a CamelBak so when you do hit the trails, you have enough water!)