Sam and Beth were walking home from their friend’s 11th birthday party. They lived in a suburban neighborhood with streetlamps and sidewalks, and a nice city park, complete with well-worn trails and a shallow pond for swimming.
Beth walked at a fast pace, Sam following just behind her. “Do you want to cut through the park on our way back to your house, Sam?”
Sam was apprehensive, as he’d only been to the park a couple times, and barely remembered it. This was the first time his mom let him walk home—most of the time she’d either stay at the party or pick him up and drive him home afterwards. Beth talked his mom into letting Sam walk home with her—Sam’s mom couldn’t say no to the enthusiastic and confident girl.
“C’mon, don’t be worried, Sam. I know the park by heart.” Beth visits the park often. She took swimming lessons here a few years ago, and her family often walks their dog on the trails.
“Ok, Beth, I’ll follow you. How do you know which trail to take?”
Beth pointed to the kiosk near the parking area. “There’s a big map there.” They ran over to the kiosk. “Sam, see this blue trail? We need to take that one—it goes by the pond and comes out at the playground next to our neighborhood.” She pointed to the blue line on the map, following the trail with her finger until it reached the playground symbol on the map.
Sam knows the playground—he rides by it on the way in and out of their neighborhood every day. He didn’t know that the pond, forest, and playground were all part of the same park. It must be a big park. “How do we find the blue trail?”
“See this tree?” Beth pointed to a blue rectangle painted on the tree trunk. “Just make sure we follow the trail with the blue marks, just like these.”
They started down the trail. As they walked, they could see through the trees to the pond where Beth took swimming lessons. Sam had only seen the pond a few times. One hot summer day, he waded out into knee-deep water.
Beth pointed to the swimming platform near the middle of the pond. “One time at the end of swimming lessons, our teacher let us swim out to the platform and jump off. It was so much fun.” Sam thought it looked far away from the beach—Beth must be a good swimmer if she could get there without drowning. He had no interest in risking his life to get out there—and besides, who knows what lurks under the surface.
They continued through the park, out of the woods and past the playground. They walked down the sidewalk to Sam’s house, parting ways as Beth went down the road to her house.
Sam thought about how confident Beth was when she was walking through the woods, and how she seemed so comfortable when she talked about swimming lessons. Was she just born that way? It made Sam nervous to think about walking through the woods. What if he got lost? Who would find him? What if he stepped in poison ivy? What if he was bitten by a tick? He was glad to have a friend like Beth who was comfortable in the woods and could show him the way through the park.
Beth got home and told her mom about the party, and about walking home with Sam. “He was nervous about walking through the woods, and he thought swimming out to the platform in the pond seemed crazy.” Beth’s mom listened. “Beth, I talk to Sam’s mom a lot. She gets nervous about him getting lost in the woods, or drowning, so she thinks it’s best to keep him away from those things. I think she never spent much time out in the woods herself when she was young, so it makes her uncomfortable. Your Dad and I want you to like being out in nature, and we think that teaching you how to swim and how to follow trails and read maps are important for keeping you safe. If you know how to do these things, you’ll be more comfortable and confident with other new things as you grow older.”
Beth stopped to think about it. Swimming was frightening at first, but now she loves it. So was walking through the woods. When she was younger, she could never figure out how her parents knew which path to take, but now it seems easy and fun to her. She gave her mom a hug, then ran out to the backyard to enjoy the rest of the day.