This spring I had the pleasure of leading a group of fifth-graders from Portland, Ore., on a hike through the Opal Creek Ancient Forest. These are the future hellions which our politicians have been scrambling to build prisons for. Kids from not-so-normal families. Their neighborhood is known as "felony flats." My kind of crowd.
I met their school bus at the trailhead during a chilly spring downpour. Most wore sneakers, T-shirts and thin jackets. A few carried their lunches in brown paper sacks. We embarked on a well-worn path and I set about explaining the local history, ecology and folklore common to the area. For the first couple of stops they actually seemed interested. At the next stop along a creekbed all hell broke loose. The next thing I knew, every kid was down in the river turning over rocks, collecting bugs, chasing newts and showing me a thing or two about discovering nature.
So, for the next three hours, I followed them as they explored every nook and cranny, and generally had a good time as kids are wont to do. I learned a lot. I learned that what we really need to do in this country is take every kid in search of adventure or meaning in life, and spend a day in the woods with them. Let them find the wild in themselves.