Guest Post: Let the Outdoors be a Playground

Photography by eduardtrag

A long irrigation ditch ran along the property line separating the field behind the old farmhouse from the field next door. The farmhouse was no longer a farm, and the field behind it had been left to the weeds for a long while by the time we moved in. But the field next door was full of corn.

Tim and I would run down the irrigation ditch in the fall, when it was dry, and crawl through it under the fence in the treeline that acted as a windbreak for the fields. In the spring the ditch would fill with water and we would each dare the other to leap over to the other bank. Sometimes we’d try to find branches on the ground in the treeline that could be used for pole-vaulting the ditch.

In the spring the corn field was stubbly. While the water rushed through the ditch we’d never stray across the fence. But in the summer, as the corn stalks grew tall and green, and the ditch dried up enough so that we could walk under the fence, Tim and I would dart into the corn maze to play endless games of hide-and-go-seek.

Our games were always tinged with a hint of apprehension, of fear, because we knew the corn field was not on our property. It was on Farmer Ross’ property. We were terrified of Ross finding us in his field, and we didn’t really understand property laws at all: we figured if he caught us on his property then we, like a ball that had been kicked over a fence, would be his forever.

What made the thought of Ross catching us all the more exciting, and terrifying, was that in the distance we could always hear his dogs barking. Ross’ Dogs were never seen, but we knew they were bred with the express purpose of chasing down little boys wandering lost in the corn maze. We would will ourselves to stay in the corn until the sounds of barking were too close to bear, then we’d dash back to the tree line, into the irrigation ditch and under the fence, back to the safety of our own empty field.

I never saw Ross, or his dogs, in the three years I lived in the old farmhouse. They were always only a boundary, an ultimate boundary, in a way the fence, irrigation ditch, and treeline never were. They were the unseen boundary that was always the most effective. The boundaries we could see, Tim and I, were just there for leaping over, playing in, and crawling under. The visible boundaries were playthings for children.

—Shawn Burns, backpackingdad.com.

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