Kids gotta get out to bond with the world

I didn't really want to go out the door, but I knew if I did -- and roamed around out there for a while -- I'd come back a happier guy. So, I layered up and went.

I didn't really want to go out the door, but I knew if I did -- and roamed around out there for a while -- I'd come back a happier guy. So, I layered up and went.

It was late afternoon on one of those December days when the sky hangs low and viscous over the city. I headed for the woods of Hartley Park, my usual stomping grounds. The temperature was 3 degrees. The wind chill was in the minus 20s. But as they say, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. And I had clothing.

When I got into the woods at Hartley, following the single-track trail that we run or bike the rest of the year, I came upon a man and his child. The man, 20- or 30-something, was pulling the well-bundled child in a plastic sled. The child could have been a boy or a girl. It was impossible to tell under all that insulation.

I just said "hello" in passing. I didn't stop to visit or to truly assess the situation. I'm guessing the child was two or three. A small dog accompanied them.

They were the only other souls I encountered, and, for all I know, the only other souls in the park. I was happy to see them. I worry these days that not enough kids get outdoors, so I was encouraged by this father-child-dog triad on the trail.


"Good to see you out here," I said as I passed them.

"Gotta get out," the young father replied with enthusiasm.

That is all we said as the dog and I passed them, headed for the piney woods. I saw their tracks later, on my way out. They had made a good-sized loop.

I thought how lucky that kid was, that his dad wanted to take him out there to see the snow and feel the cold on his cheeks and listen to the trees creaking as they leaned in the wind.

Dusk came over the man and his child as it had come over me during my walk. The child would have sensed that, seen the darkness closing in. But he or she would have been comfortable with all of that, I think, riding along in the sled, the dog prancing alongside, dad up ahead.

I wondered what else the child must have sensed. The sound of the sled squeaking and hissing over the snow. The lurching and bumping of the plastic craft. The occasional careening down a gentle hill. The sound of the wind weaving its way through naked branches. The dense and stoic trees. The amber glow of city lights in the gathering dusk. The quick exhalations of the dog.

The simplest things.

That's what kids miss when they don't get out, or when we don't take them out. They miss calm, I think. And the relative absence of stimulation. Building a relationship with cold. Building a relationship with a parent. Sensing his or her true place in the universe.


The young parent was right.

Gotta get out.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or . Follow him on Twitter at "samcookoutdoors."

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