Return to the Wild

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A few weeks ago scientists at Irvine announced that modern lawns emit four times more greenhouse gases than they absorb. That seems like a lot, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Mowing, fertilizing, killing pests: these things take energy.

So I started to think about my own house growing up. We had a lawn, of course, but it's not what I remember when I think of my house. I think of the sprawling oak forest out back. There were deep ravines, tangled thickets and lots of dead stuff to poke with sticks. The average weekend day for me involved getting up, watching cartoons, and then taking my trusted walking stick into the woods with my neighbor from up the street. We would follow animal tracks, climb trees, and see how well we could get lost. I think this is far more valuable than some over-fertilized bit of sod that impresses the neighbors.

I'm not saying everyone can have 100 acres of land all to themselves. God knows, there's not enough forest out there. But a few days ago, thanks to the miracle of Google Maps, I went back to my old house. That fabulous world of deep forests and untold adventures? About 12 acres -- part of a wildlife corridor snaking through the surrounding neighborhoods that offered adventures to maybe hundreds of kids. Half the time I was trekking through the jungle with my stick, I was probably going in circles. I suppose that explains why I was always home in time for lunch. Yet to me, that bit of land could have been the Amazon Basin.

Eventually, I grew out of my woods and started backpacking and mountain climbing. I volunteered at an animal refuge and eventually became a wildlife biologist. That led me to science writing and the man I am today. And while my friends who spent their weekends inside, playing Metroid and Super Mario make more money than me today -- loads more, truth be told -- I wouldn't trade childhoods with them.

Mine gave me knowledge of creeks and stones and the wide wonderful world around me they just don't have. It gave me passion for the outdoors as well as a sense of stewardship that kind of baffles many of them. And yet all I needed was just a few acres of wilderness and a heavy stick.


With a Perspective, I'm Erik Vance.