No, I am not a hipster. My dad works at the Forest History Center, a Minnesota historical site in Grand Rapids, MN that features a 1900 logging camp, complete with a cookshack, bunkhouse and horse barn. The camp is populated by costumed interpreters who give visitors the chance to experience life in a turn-of-the-century logging camp without them having to sweat, swear or freeze their balls off.
My dad's initial job at the center was the Barn Boss (he drove horses around all day). This meant that frequently I would be called upon to put on overalls, boots and (fuck my life) suspenders. I would "volunteer" (emphasis on the quotes) my time to show the metropolitan Grand Rapids folk about the importance of avoiding Road Apples (if you don't know what they are, then tough luck because I sure as hell aren't going to give that damn spiel again). Really, for how weird I am, it's a wonder I didn't turn out a lot stranger.
You would think that after a decade, three years of college, several writing awards and the ability to legally drink that I would have outgrown my time as a Road Monkey. And yet I had barely returned for the summer before there was my dad, glint in his eye, asking me, "So what are you doing Tuesday?"
I agreed — only because I didn't have to wear suspenders. I had been asked to deliver seven 25-minute lectures to groups of fifth-grade students on "nature writing."
This quickly morphed into "nature storytelling," because it's hard to hold the attention of 11-year-olds sitting on stumps in the woods, let alone get them to write about the moss under their butts.
The next few hours proceeded pretty much as one would expect. Several children had shot up hornets' nests with various children's guns and been chased down by the enraged stinging insects. Several others discussed hunting and gutting deer in the fall. Such is the life of a Northern Minnesotan child.
The main exercise centered around the students using sensory details to tell their stories — meaning words that pertained to the five senses ("Except for women," one boy said. "They have a sixth sense." I didn't ask him what he meant).
The last group was particularly difficult. All boys, and all incapable of sitting still. One of them began peeling the bark off his stump and found a worm underneath, which he loudly broadcast to the group. I scrambled to my feet and encouraged him quickly, "Describe the worm! What color is it? What does it feel like?!"
My creative efforts didn't do much good — it was the end of the day, and they (and I) wanted to go home.
"I have a story," one chubby boy with glasses said suddenly.
I glanced at him warily. This was the same kid who had tried to climb a tree and jump from one wobbling stump to the next.
"Once my family went camping, and it rained. The thunder was so loud that it shook the lantern next to me. All the moisture stuck to the tent, so in the morning, when we ran our fingers across it, it was wet and stuck to the cloth beneath it. You could draw pictures in the water drops."
Then he promptly went back to playing with bugs.
It was a quick, intense image — but elaborated upon in a surprisingly eloquent way. I don't the kid had any idea that he had just done exactly what I had been trying to get kids to do all day — describe in detail an experience of nature that others could connect with.
It boggles my mind that this simple little event — running ones fingers over a soaked tent — is something that millions of young Americans may never get to experience.