Contemporary life happens within walls and most people will live most of their lives indoors. In preparation Esolen says,
“...we must replace the great world around us with an artificial world where not the imagination but the stray nervous tics of the brain may roam for a while and then rest.... Replace air with virtual space.”Children who are left to their own devices outside “may develop into people who do not do as they are told--meaning that they will not buy what marketers want them to buy.”
Outside children will find:
The sky is full of color, clouds, stars, birds, and planes taking people to or bringing them from Elsewhere. “[It] startles us out of our dreams of vanity, it silences our pride, it stills the lust to get and spend.” It’s just there, vast and infinite, challenging us to be.
Video games and TV fill our visual field with neon lights. Smog discolors our outlook on the sky whether it’s physical smog that clouds our physical view or mental lust that clouds our mind. “A child that has been blared at all his life will never be able to do the brave nothing of staring at the sky.” He will be too bored.
A World Untamed
Outside contains a world not yet managed into submission. Even the small and ordinary found just past our own doorsteps will show us the perplexities and unusualness of life if we take the time to notice. Nature is not all cute and nice. The hunter and and the hunted are waging a war and the result is often kind of gross.
The mysteries of the world can not be contained in parks (national or neighborhood) and zoos. And they are easily dulled by sentimentality and “nature lessons.”
A World in Which to Encounter Himself
To have any effect on nature, you must struggle. Mere words, clicks of a mouse, transferring of electronic data will do nothing against rocks, stumps, dirt, and weeds. Outside man encounters what is beyond man and attempts to come to terms with it or to master it by cunning, courage, and sweat. Nature can help develop a self to rely on, growing a person in strength and cleverness. The music of the hills, rocks, streams, and trees finds its way into the mind and being.
Since I don’t live in the country, I was interested in the little section about growing the imagination in the city. The city can not compare to the “illimitably complex, wild yet orderly” environment in the county. But cities are full of people--lives being lived side by side, so different yet often so similar. These can be watched and learned from and known just as streams, rocks, and birds can be in the country. Fear, degradation, sin, romance, vitality...these can be found in the alleys, streets, tunnels, bridges, and shops of a city.
There is less to excite the mind amid the manicured lawns and homogenous homes of the suburbs. If nature is untamed in the country and human nature is untamed in the city, both have been conquered here in the in-between land. The imagination needs a world of possibilities in which to explore, work, and struggle. Here it has already been done. The sidewalks are spacious and smooth; the yards are professionally landscaped; the people are safe behind curtained windows and closed garages. The opportunities are there for the finding because there is always work to be done in this fallen world, no matter where you are, and there are always people to meet, but it takes more creativity and perhaps more direction from adults.
And safety is a concern. Our kids can’t go roaming the streets and making friends with whomever they might bump into. I don’t want to raise kids who are too afraid of every passing car to venture outside but neither do I want them so naive that they trust every person they see. Maybe if I keep a childlike outlook on the world my kids and I can go off on adventures together to explore “man’s jumble of artifacts.”