Rebecca Morean

Turning Over Stones

Rebecca Morean

Rebecca Morean
Yellow Springs, Ohio,
April 25
Associate Professor
Sinclair Community College and The Antioch Writers' Workshop
Novelist and mom. Dog walker and goat milker. Warrior against the ravages of ignorance (and time). Addicted to popcorn and sea coasts. Loves Rocks. (Also known as Abbey Pen Baker for one particular series.)


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MAY 23, 2011 7:59AM

Losing More Than Gold

Rate: 7 Flag



When Jane Goodall disappeared at four, her mother did not frantically grab a GPS device or swallow a biting urge to “chip” her little girl when she finally found her in the chicken coop five hours later observing hens. In fact, local police were not even called.  Of course, high tech location devices did not exist.  But her mother trusted Jane, their community, and the world at large and knew her daughter was fine. Preoccupied perhaps, but not abducted.

When three young brothers took off one summer by themselves into the wilds of North America to make “documentaries” of moose, fish, and eagles and stumbled into a den of grizzly bears, their parents were concerned, not helicoptering.  The boys were 17, 14, and 12—all went on to became naturalists, one hosted Wild America on PBS, the other produced the show and the three remain top wildlife photographers. 

As a child, a young child of ten, I was allowed to hike freely in the deserts of Saugus Newhall on the lip of the Mohave for hours on end, sometimes disappearing from lunch until dinner. On the hottest days, when the sun broiled at 125 degrees, with shadows scarce and school out, those adventures began at 6:30 in the morning and would run until well after lunch.

I jumped flatbed rail cars.  Explored old mines with a flashlight I’d hidden under my shirt.  Caught snakes, lizards, horned toads, saw coyotes, found  their excrement, pulled apart owl pellets, pretended to be lost without water, sometimes was lost without water and always, always, was on the lookout for the coup de grace—a body, dumped in the desert by some maniac in Los Angeles seventy miles away.

I never found a body.  Of a human, that is.  Instead, rabbits killed by coyotes, a deer’s head lobbed off by a hunter, moles, rats, a cache of cow jaws and teeth under an old bathtub in the middle of nowhere and once, in the elbow of a dried up riverbed, a slew of Playboys.  My two friends, Dennis and Gene, thumbed through rain puckered pictures while I stared at the scrubby mistletoe with round plumped leaves dangling from an elderberry tree. This mistletoe had nothing to do with the vibrant, pointy, Christmasy mistletoe I saw in movies and television laced with red ribbon.   I’m sure I will use this scene one day.  The three eleven year olds, boys in the shadows having the topography of their sexually mapped by large breasted women in tight lingerie and the over compensating tomboy, gathering and cataloguing metaphors dangling from trees.

I lived in suburbia, in a track home.  The surroundings were wild, but our lifestyle was typical late '60s with mom at home, dad at Lockheed, and kids in school.  We kept a tortoise and a dog and a cat, the occasional hurt bird, and once nursed a baby coyote riddled with maggots who died, tragically, of distemper.  With our street nothing but cookie cutter ranch homes, our house was clearly neither farm nor ranch. Yet, we felt the adrenal high of witnessing floods and fires grow like organisms and learned patience by staking out trap door spiders or stalking coyotes.  I loved hiking, exploring, thinking.

How different it is now.  Children are not allowed outdoors.  They do not mingle with nature unless they live on a farm or ranch or take a trip out of suburbia or the city and go to a mountain, a creek, a beach.  Children, people, communities are not trusted. The expectation is to have fun in nature and I get that: family vacations, a weekend away.  But these represent only sanitized experiences in the natural world. And many children don’t even get that.  They live in asphalt and concrete cities where strips of green are few and far between.  They are not allowed in town, at friend’s house unless completely supervised.  They are parented out of fear of someone taking them, molesting them, getting lost, getting hurt.  When I talk to other parents they agree, yes, it’s terrible kids don’t get out and play more, but I won’t let Mary down by the waterfall by herself.  And when real tragedy hits most see it through media or the Weather Channel.  With dramatic coverage of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, nature is characterized as malignant.

A few days ago I learned from my oracle (NPR) all about the gold standard.  How our currency used to be based on gold, how much we stored, how much it was worth.  This led into a discussion of how we, as a species, value gold and other precious metals and gemstones.  We have valued gold for 4,000 years or more, in times when it took hand labor to extract and shape, and both tools and religions were desperate to be rendered ornate.  We were connected to gold viscerally—we understood it bore value.  Our brains gave it value.  We were as connected to the earth as the gold itself.

Today, our culture of fear directly impacts international relations, stock markets, and the lack of compassion delivered to those less fortunate or different.  If we continue to cloister ourselves and our children from meaningful and yes, perhaps difficult or harmful adventures with Mother Nature, we may lose more than just coming of age stories and a clutch of handy metaphors.  

In a time where managers and businesses both profit and nonprofit demand quantitative analysis as input to every decision reached and milestones are no longer stones measuring out a mile on an obscure trail, but numbers to be reached in order to measure “success,” the fact that the value of gold is a figment of our imagination should be of concern.

If we continue to be so out of touch with our natural world, so unable to relate to it only in terms of resources to be managed (or not), country borders to be drawn, animals to be slaughtered, and land to be built on, then we lose more than just our ability to appreciate nature.  We lose more than just opportunities to learn about ourselves.  We may lose the very thing we have ordained to carry the entire weight of the global economy.  Even gold, with our long and revered relationship and its veins enervating the earth, will be so far removed from our day to day lives it will have no value what so ever. 

My high desert life left me with stories to tell my children, a deep love and respect for nature, and an appreciation of the limits of both myself and an expansive horizon.  I am grateful to have witnessed life, death, freak snow storms, jackrabbits, and nesting hummingbirds.  I saw myself grapple with problems beyond the reach of walls, electricity, adults, and air conditioning.  Today, I am very happy on a beach looking for rocks, or reading E.O. Wilson, or identifying fossils from my friend’s crawlspace.

It’s a deadly equation, fear added to insulation.  The sum leaves a paltry inheritance for our children.


photo credit: Kira M. Plumer

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Wow wee, and reread three more times?
By chance, Do You need a Friend in Ohio?
I was broke down three days in Ohio once.
I had a broke, dilapidated rusty, pickup truck.
It took three days to fix it. I Loved Ohio. Fun.

Rumi writes`
Happy Day Happy Day Happy Day Indeed.
Ay When the Garden Wagon rolls into town.
The Mules caravan has Wagons full of greens.
The beautiful beast have their saddlebags full.
It's a more precious day than if the wagon haul`
gold, millions of greenbacks, whiskey, wine, beer,
and then the farmers go home to sip bartered grub.
We barter coconut macaroons, jams, and ice-gelato.

Pitango is a DC Gelato vender. Go Go Visit a`Gelato? It's better than eggs.
It can be enjoyed for breakfast\If You got sweet urge?
apologies to Rumi? I paraphrased he garden poem

Rumi does write a Market Day Poem. You reminded.
This is a good post to send to teacher of precious folks.
I will share with a few Teacher who Teach the Children.

Nature entertains, heals, and folks imbibe healthy Virtue.
I can't explain it. We need to wander into Nature's Havens.
I am always amazed that DC will not permit a city rooster.

Rooster crow hearty 'Good Morning! DC is one Siren Call.
Pan was the ancient Call to awaken from spiritual slumber.
I say DC new Zoning Laws alow Red Rooster on Cops Cars.
Rooster on Secret Service SUV's would be a less loud noise.
Amen, and beautifully said, as usual.

I have a vague theory (one of many) that in most places, the world is not more dangerous than ever; in fact, it's probably safer. But with the 24 hour news machine generating fear and paranoia, it's no wonder parents hover. I have argued with other parents about this--they think we are parenting smarter because we "know" what dangers lurk. I think we're doing it wrong. There's a great blog (now book, I believe) called Free Range Kids that encourages a return to saner parenting to create more self-reliant, connected kids.
Salon, you've let me down. Six posts and six Editor's Picks? Give me a break, please. This particular post was labeled as an Editor's Pick mere moments after it was posted. I understand that these editors might read fast, but...Is the author friends with one of the editors? I have yet to see so many posts, one after another, with Editor's Picks every time. Salon, I hope you are carefully reading and vetting these authors and posts before you deem them Editor's Picks. It seems that this particular author has been rubber stamped with the label.
I really like this post, so beautifully written..."It’s a deadly equation, fear added to insulation..." Yes. My mom grew up in the country, where everyone knew to take care of the land, the animals, it was just ingrained into whole way of, they couldn't survive if they didn't take care of what was sustaining them. It is a little harder to see the connection now, even though it's just as real and vital.

I love the description of the desert life, which is such an exotic landscape to me.
Great piece! You really captured the spirit of childhood adventuring and that connection to the outdoors. Even growing up in a small city, we had so much fun taking boats out (other people's), scaling backyard fences and riding our bikes over drawbridges not quite locked into place. The graveyard provided endless opportunity for scaring ourselves silly.

This is such an important part of childhood -- the dabbling in the unknown and experimenting with our feelings. There is nothing quite like a pretend tea party with acorn caps, or playing desert island in the backyard of an abandoned house. We didn't need a video to access our imaginations.

Thanks for a thought-provoking piece -- nothing quite like this kind of nostalgia on a rainy morning.

PS Love your phrase, "with shadows scarce...."
I am unable to rate this for some reason, but I like it. I wonder how much helicopter parenting is peer pressure. You may not want to hover over your child, but the dreaded accusation that you are unfit hangs in the air if you don't.
I am unable to rate this for some reason, but I like it. I wonder how much helicopter parenting is peer pressure. You may not want to hover over your child, but the dreaded accusation that you are unfit hangs in the air if you don't.
wow; fabulous

what a lucky childhood
I was much less supervised too and had fun
Call me too literal. But Gold:

"Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it.... Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head."

But this part:

"always, always, was on the lookout for the coup de grace—a body, dumped in the desert by some maniac in Los Angeles seventy miles away."

I am taken with this image. It isn't the tract house or the wilderness or any of the pieces.

It is an unformed and vivid imagination meeting the unrelenting reality of the desert. Powerful.

That's my take anyway.
Excellent story. It shouldn't be on Open Salon. It should be in the NY TImes Sunday magazine!

Yeah, I've heard of that book, "Free Range Kids". I saw that book's author speak about a year ago. She was a hoot, and a very effective speaker as well.

Anyway, I was a geek long before it was fashionable. When I was but a mere third-grader.I liked to work on old radios. And not just the battery-operated kind either, things that ran on actual house current. I knew the fundamental safety rules about working around electricity and using tools. Mom and dad had just one requirement, that one of them be at home with me in case something bad happened to me. And as you can see, I survived (some of the old radios, not so much!).

I loved your prose and it flowed- speculative observation to your childhood to gold standard speculation to childhood robbed to speculative prediction/observation.

And, you know your audience. Mostly 30 to 50+ year olds who also were never extremely poor or underprivileged who read for fun and write to exercise their minds.

But...just as the world of a child is hemmed in. Neat arch. Home. School. Home. Scheduled Lesson. Scheduled Lesson. Home.

I think you undermined your article by drawing a line between your (common 30/40/50+ childhood freedom) and today. This is why your article/reflection/speculation becomes less RICH. Children are exposed to a whole modulated world via video games (where killing is encouraged), fan blogs (where sexy photos of Bieber's girlfriend, Gomez makes it okay for 16 year olds to show lots and lots of skin). Children of today are not "sheltered" on the contrary and when they don't run into decapitated animals on their own what they see on a computer in thirty minutes could give one silver hair.

I took the computer out of my house for four years when my daughter was eight. I found searches on her computer and mine that I did not approve of and that scared me.

Again, gold. Our children and families are gold- not one time, or freedom. Memories have a way of becoming more than what they were- experience.

Experience is what matters- not sun drenched memories. You wrote of exceptionalisim, but most are not exceptional. Most memories of youth and aged (me, too) are crowded out by new learning.

Assimilation and Accommodation trims most memories- buffs a few and makes twiggy mistletoe worth dropping in an article about lost freedoms of childhood. I think this was a poor line and self-serving. Otherwise, I loved every line.

I'm working on becoming a writer. Hard to write well. Very hard.