When we lived in the Boston suburbs, the kids took a field trip in 3rd grade to the town nature preserve. This was about two miles form the school. Before the field trip, parents had to attend a orientation, at which the science teacher outlined the plan for the day: a three-hour ramble over well-worn paths, with observations of habitat and plant life. She asked if there were any questions.
One dad stood up and announced, “We are very concerned about the risk of sun stroke on this field trip. We don’t like Taylor to be out in the sun too long.”
This was followed by,
“Are the children going to be exposed any poison ivy on this field trip?”
“Are there going to be any poisonous mushrooms?”
“What is the plan for mosquitoes?”
“Are the kids going to be walking though an area with the ticks which carry Lyme disease?”
And my favorite: “What about fisher cats?”
The science teacher—who apparently, had heard all this before— assured the parents that the kids would be steered away from poison ivy, mushrooms, and toxic exposure to the sun; would be wearing whatever non-toxic, gluten-free, organic insect repellent they brought with them, as required; would be checked for ticks, and would stop and tweet fisher-cat repelling whistles every four minutes. (Just kidding about the last part. What she really said was, Well, fishers are native to this area, but no, we won’t see one, as they are a) nocturnal and b) likely to be scared away by a group of a hundred and twenty third graders on a field trip.)
I was starting to wonder if any of these people ever actually went outside.
Farmer Boys’ parents, needless to say, had a different approach to the dangers of nature. In Chapter VI of Farmer Boy, Almanzo went along with his father to watch ice being cut out of the river:
Almanzo ran to the edge of the hole, watching the saw. Suddenly, right on the edge, he slipped. He felt himself falling headlong into the dark water. He knew he would sink and be drawn under the solid ice. The swift current would pull him under the ice, where nobody could find him. He’d drown, held down by the ice in the dark. French Joe grabbed him just in time…..he felt a terrific crash and then he was lying on his stomach on the good, solid ice. He got to his feet. Father was coming, running.
Father stood over him, big and terrible.
“You ought to have to worst whipping of your life,” Father said.
“Yes, Father,” Almanzo said. He knew it. He knew he should be more careful. A boy nine years old is too big to do foolish things because he doesn’t stop to think. Almanzo knew, and felt ashamed.
If Almanzo’s father could see nine-year-olds today—who, apparently, do not have enough experience being outside the house to avoid poison ivy, sunstroke, mushrooms, or ticks, and whose parents think they are at risk of being attacked by elusive nocturnal animals in broad daylight—well, it’s a good thing he can’t see it.