I once took five children under twelve on a walk. We rambled a bit wildly down a country road whose maples and oaks were on fire with autumn color in air so crisp and cold we had to keep moving lest we freeze. The road was quite narrow, and I quickly realized that when the occasional car appeared, I needed a means by which I could get all five (including the two boys, always a dozen yards ahead) off the pavement in an instant. The solution was obvious: we needed a touch of imagination. I gathered them round and told them a story that ended with this: What if we were brave captains of explorers’ ships on the high sea, sailing in search of treasure and adventure, and the cars were pirates, come to plunder our gold? From that moment forth, I had only to yell “Pirates!” at the sight of a car, and all five would dive instantly off the road and into the forest on either side.
However effective that use of imagination was in preserving the health of those children, what I remember most vividly is what happened afterward. Our game suffused the whole of our walk, and we began to hunt for treasure. The littlest ones scavenged the brightest leaves off the ground and put them in my hands as if they were rubies; they seized acorns like compact jewels and walnuts like nuggets of gold. Meanwhile, the bigger children came back waving curious branches that looked like the staffs of kings or yelled their discovery of the moss that clung to the trees like emerald velvet. Very quickly we forgot we were pretending. The world opened itself to us, a realm of actual treasure and real adventure that we had the chance to uncover. I remember the joy I felt in seeing afresh the autumn world in its splendor, the quickened delight of the children as the earth came into their hands as a gift.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Gabby Orcutt