Monday, April 29, 2013

Creativity and the Woods

My childhood home was a relatively typical post-World War II American suburb of tract houses, the only difference being that it was suburban New Orleans, and the surnames occupying the tract houses were a dizzying array of English, Irish, Italian, French, Spanish, American South and American Yankee.

The neighborhood was living proof that there was an American Baby Boom. If you weren’t part of the Boom, or didn’t have a hand in creating it, you can’t imagine what Halloween was like – hundreds and hundreds of children pouring over the streets like an animated, costumed tidal wave. Or how crowded public and parochial schools could be.

Suffice it to say there was never a problem finding a friend to play with, or assembling more than enough players for two full sandlot baseball teams or street football teams.

Behind the houses across the street from ours was a remnant of what the entire area had once been – a low-lying forest on land just high enough to avoid the name “swamp forest.” For a few years, we called it simply “The woods” – until rumors came along of an even large tract several more blocks away. Then our tract became “The Little Woods,” differentiated from “The Big Woods.” Surrounding subdivisions, some older than World War II, provided something of a civilized buffer, but both wooded areas were places of magic and mystery.

Our parents didn’t seem to mind us playing there. All of the critters had departed, with the exception of squirrels, birds, lizards and occasional snakes. Nothing terrible had ever happened there; there were no stories of ghosts or someone’s body being found. So all we had to say to our mothers was “going to the woods with the kids” and they’d nod in understanding and acquiescence.

The woods, without old stories or rumors attached them, became a blank slate for scores of imaginations. They were the setting for countless games of hide and seek, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, war, and reenacting favorite movies and television shows (“What now, Kimosabe?”). We found mysteries to solve – who left that old jacket and baseball cap? Who built that campfire? Could someone be living in our woods? If we couldn’t solve the mystery, we’d invent a story and make up our own solution.

The woods, little and big, were a place for kids to be kids, to exercise imagination and creativity, to come up with nonsense, to climb trees and pretend they were lookout posts to watch for the enemy. We’d make camouflage blinds to hide in, and set traps for enemy soldiers.

Those woods, and the creativity they afforded, were a gift.

“Creativity is a gift from God to be submitted to Him,” says Ann Kroeker in Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families. “He can use it as a powerful tool for learning, growth, and understanding. Bright, inquisitive, childlike minds are so open to God’s revelation. He gives our children the ability to think, wonder, and question.”

Both tracts of woods are long gone, converted to yet more subdivisions. It’s inevitable, I suppose.

But what a blessing it was to have had them.

Over at The High Calling, we’ve been discussing Not So Fast. Today concludes the discussion, and you can see what people have to say about the book by visiting the site.

Photograph by David Wagner via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Doug Spurling said...

The same thing that made the woods home for the kids to play made the woods home for folks today--imagination.

Perhaps if they'd have been, not so fast, to make money they'd have left the woods for the kids.

Louise Gallagher said...

We too had woods across from where we lived -- and they became the forests of imagination alive with trolls and witches and wizards... and the prerequisite prince charming!

Love post Glynn.

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry...but, i didn't get past the first eleven words...and i just smiled and thought i just can't ruin this wonderful typo by reading anything else.

Glynn said...

It must have been a Freudian slip. I changed it - but in case anyone wonders - it origianlly read "poet-World War II" instead of "post."

Anonymous said...

poetry poetry poetry.

i didin't have the woods, but there was a corn field with a tree in the middle. a big tree in which the older neighbor boys built a tree floor with no house on it...but a floor was good if one had enough courage to climb the rickety pieces of wood nailed to the side of the tree, get in the base of the limbs and then crawl over the edge of the floor to get up. and of course...we did. much imagination took place in the tall corn as well.

those poor poor kids these where to play in some nice clean dirt and trees...away from stuffy ofd adults.

Ann Kroeker said...

I was in the first generation where people were starting to feel a little bit nervous about sending kids out alone, but I lived on a farm and ran to and from my friend Becky's house, and we played in the fields and climbed trees and threw rocks in the pond and rode our bikes to the creek.

I've tried to make sure my kids, especially when they were little, got outside a lot. They were the exception in our neighborhood. I'm willing to bet our family is known for having the children who run wild and unattended. :)