Our family photo albums are like a lot of family photo albums, I suppose: pictures of birthday parties, babies in the bathtub, Christmas with the grandparents, etc. But one thing sets my parents’ snapshots apart: the vast majority of them were taken outside. As soon after my February birth as it became possible, I was taken out to explore.
Of course, it wasn’t unusual for kids to play outside back in the 60s and 70s. But since my parents never bought a TV, we had even less reason than most kids to stay indoors.
Here I am with my younger brother Mark in 1971, in the yard of our place in Maine.
We moved to Maine when I was one and left when I was five and a half. I imprinted deeply on that landscape of dark, coniferous woods, pastures dotted with low juniper and lots of bare granite. Steve was two years older and a born leader; I was his shadow.
To this day, whenever I visit the north woods, I feel a certain pang. It’s hard to explain.
Our property included some shoreline along a large lake called Paddy’s Pond. (Mainers are fond of understatement.) We spent a lot of time there, and to this day I’m drawn to water despite being a reluctant swimmer. The latter might be the result of a certain trauma caused by the lake’s abundant leeches.
There was also an actual pond, an old farm pond below the house. We used to play there unsupervised quite a bit, because that’s the way parents were back then. I think Mom kept an eye on us through the kitchen window.
In the summer of 1971, knowing we’d be leaving this place we loved so much and moving to central Pennsylvania that August, the parents hired a local photographer friend to take a bunch of pictures. He captured Steve and me setting off to collect insects, which has become a life-long passion for Steve.
I’m not sure what we found, but it was evidently pretty engrossing.
Although I was a bit of a problem child, adept at making myself and others miserable, Mom says I always became quiet when she took me into the woods (in contrast to Steve, who enthused loudly about everything). Possibly as a consequence, she took me for walks in the woods a lot.
I was never particularly observant, but according to the caption in the photo album, this is me discovering a ruffed grouse nest at the age of four.
That same summer, we went on an epic camping trip as a family — the first of many. We had two big canvas tents, one for the parents and one for us kids, as well as a Coleman stove, sleeping bags, air mattresses and a few other essentials, all of which fit handily into our red VW microbus. Hey, it was 1970. My parents weren’t hippies, just back-to-the-landers, so there were no peace signs or flowers painted on the side of the bus. (That said, I’m told we did march in at least one anti-war demonstration when I was four or five.)
We drove all around eastern Canada and came back (?) by way of Niagara Falls.
One very cool thing my parents did when each of us turned five was to take us on an airplane flight for our birthday.
A little over a year later, and I was trying (and probably failing) to fly a kite in the field at our new place in Pennsylvania. My first Appalachian spring — a much less rushed affair than spring in the north woods — was about to unfold. Forty-four years later, it’s something I have yet to tire of.