It is winter vacation for the schoolkids, but not a vacation at our Farm-childcare, for the kids need something to do and there is no snow. All that is left of the little snow we have had this winter are some shady places where the snow was trodden down and compacted, turned to slush and refrozen, and became the slick ice one has to be very careful about, when walking over. It is in the distance in the picture below, especially past the gate to the upper right. The amazing thing is that a year ago the snow was nearly up to the upper rail of the fence. What a difference a year makes! I had to snow-blow a path across this playground, last February, for the snow was over the smaller kid’s heads.
The toddlers have no care, crossing the treacherous ice just through the gate to the upper right, because they haven’t far to fall, and wear such muffs of snowsuits that when they hit the ground it only makes a fluffy sound. Older people have farther to fall, and parents tend to be under-dressed because they are coming from work, and I noticed something funny, watching parents cross that particularly treacherous patch of ice, when they pick up their kids at the end of a long and hard work day. They take tiny, little steps, and walk with their arms out. In other words, they walk like a child just learning to walk. Meanwhile their own toddler is long past that stage. They charge across the ice like someone who learned to walk days and days and days ago, and for them it is great fun to fall down.
Older children, who have reached the vast age of six, tend to be more easily bored, and I have to figure out what to do with them, when there is no sledding, and no snow-forts, and no snow-man building. (The option of skating involves skates, which involves logistics I won’t bother go into, beyond saying I have been remiss.) In the end I have a bunch of kids roaming about a stark New England which is known for its rocks.
If there is anything worse than falling on ice it is falling on rocks, and if there is anything worse than falling on rocks it is falling from rocks from a tree.
The risky behavior of kids doesn’t actually bother me all that much, because I figure part of childhood is to fall from various places, and back in my boyhood I felt a bit inferior because the other boys had gotten more stitches than I had. One reason I opened my Farm-childcare was because I felt sorry for modern children, who live a sort of virtual and bubble-wrapped existence, where the only time they are allowed outside it is into a concrete playground more befitting of a prison, or perhaps a kennel, than a childhood. My wife largely agrees with me, but beyond a certain point we do tend to differ. For example, she doesn’t like the idea of boyhood involving stitches. Or girlhood. And therefore the above pictures make me a little nervous. My wife might see some danger in them I don’t, and might even forbid my posting them on our childcare-Facebook-page, because she wouldn’t want parents to needlessly worry.
Apparently I am always causing parents needless worry. What I tend to say is that the worry is stupid. That is why it is called “needless.” However just when I am on the verge of telling a parent exactly that, my wife gives me a certain look, and sometimes a certain kick in the shins under the table. I then remember she is in charge of “Customer Relations.” I head off to have fun with the kids, and she takes care of the diplomacy.
Actually it is a relief there is no sledding. Even if you take kids to a hill that is practically flat, kids somehow manage to make it dangerous. They will sled standing up, and then standing on each others shoulders. So actually a lack of snow is safer.
The problem is: What to do? Kids make a lack of snow dangerous, as well.
What I do is refer to H.T. Webster, who was a fantastically popular American single-panel cartoonist who wrote his last cartoon the year I was born. (It strikes me as amazing that he is so unknown only a half century later. He belongs up there with Mark Twain.) If there is a situation you have trouble finding the words to describe, he likely has a cartoon that describes it. For example, what is wrong with a lack of snow?
My response to this dismal situation was to take the kids on a hike to a beaver pond I knew of out in the woods. After all, beavers are a good example, are they not? They display industry and other good qualities do they not?
Well, actually, back when I was young and a few still actually knew how to cut down a tree with an ax, if a chainsaw wasn’t available, one of the worst insults you could make to a man with an ax was that his chopping was “Beavering.”
You see, the problem with cutting down a tree in this manner is that you really have no idea which way it will fall. (There are some examples of the tree falling on the beaver doing the cutting, though such failures haven’t caused the extinction of the species.) (Nor will the examples of similar behavior, now being enacted in Washington DC, cause the extinction of the human race, though I sometimes think our population might decrease significantly.)
In the above case the beaver experienced a problem I have often seen humans with chainsaws experience. Even when humans cut correctly and employ ropes and “come-alongs”, they are dopes and try to fell a tree to the northwest when the wind is from the northwest and gusting, and the wind then gusts mightily and snaps ropes or rips pegs from the earth, and blows the tree to the southeast just far enough to become incredibly tangled to the branches of a tree to the southeast. Rather than a tree lieing flat on the ground you have created a “widow maker”.
(This is off topic, but I should confess that I know about this because I made this mistake, and created a “widow-maker” back when I couldn’t make a widow, because I was unmarried and aged twenty.
After telling a wealthy customer I’d have their tree down in a jiffy, and waving bye-bye as they left to go shopping, a lone gust of wind blew the tree I was felling the wrong way. It fell much more steeply than the above example, and inclined over the customer’s patio at around a 45 degree angle. I had an hour to hide the evidence of my ineptitude, and, because I was young and stupid and desperate, I ran up the trunk with my chainsaw, cut the limbs keeping the tree from falling, and then, as it fell, reached out to another pine, and climbed down the other tree’s trunk. Then I cut like crazy, swept up the saw dust, and when my customer returned from shopping, all they saw was a nice and neat stack of logs. Live and learn…..but don’t forget to thank God you haven’t died in the learning.)
In the above example, the beaver saw the tree only just barely start to fall before getting snarled in the branches of a nearby tree. The rodent then probably swore a bunch of beaver curses, before going to cut an even huger tree. (Beaver only cut such big trees when they have exhausted the more choice species, which are poplar, birch and alder. The above tree was a beech, and the below example is an oak, which beavers rarely eat. Look at the chip the boy has in his hand. That is one bite, for a beaver.)
If a beaver could take such a chunk out of solid oak, just think what a chunk it could take out of you, if you went wading into the water to cuddle with what you took to be an over-sized Micky Mouse. Beavers have killed dogs that went swimming into the water after them. This is important information to pass on to the young, even if my wife thinks it might be a bit too gruesome, and, because the young man in the picture had stated he wasn’t afraid of an over-sized mouse with a flat tail, I had told him the mouse could take a chunk out of him as big in the chip in his hand, which accounts for his expression. (My wife will deal with the diplomacy with the parents, later.)
There are no pictures from the beaver pond, because the mild winter has made the ice thin, and the kids had to follow me like duckings behind a mother duck, to stay on the safest ice. Of course, humans are not ducklings, and they strayed, and every bit of my attention was used up keeping them from walking blithely to places when they would plunge waist-deep in ice-water. They did see the amazing dam the over-sized mice made, and the amazing lodge (which I called an “igloo” of sticks and mud), but I lost about five pounds keeping them away from the places the currents (and the beavers) make the ice weak. Consequently, there was no time to take pictures.
My tougher friends tend to kid me and make me a bit defensive about the fact I am basically a baby-sitter. (Calling me a “child-care professional” is like calling a garbageman a “sanitary engineer.”) And I confess I blush a bit when I am like a mother duck with a string of ducklings. It just doesn’t seem macho. James Bond never is caught dead in such situations. But it does help me to appreciate mothers. You can have no idea of the attention it demands, and the calories expended. But, unlike mothers, I go places that make mothers frown.
My poor wife has to put up with me. She tells me I can’t post pictures of children playing with trees that could fall and crush them. She explains that just because I know that it is physically impossible for the tree to fall, the parents will not know that, and therefore I am not suppose to post pictures like the picture below.
All I can say is that I haven’t lost a kid yet. Furthermore, the kids experience childhoods as free as the one I long-ago experienced, and hopefully get a transfusion of freedom in their veins. I figure America is finished, if we old coots can’t hand the baton of Liberty to a new generation.
Pray for me. Pray first that the accidents, that inevitably happen, only are the little ones, when they happen to me. And pray second that the so-called “liberals” don’t find out, for we know how “liberal” they actually are.