Dorea never wanted to grow up. Summers in college, she used to earn money by hosting a "dirt camp" at the home of her aunt. Depending on the day's theme, kids might be sword fighting in the woods, heaving water balloons across the front yard, or throwing cheeseballs toward shaving creamed partners on the driveway. Now an actor, Dorea plays on stage, or in the kitchen. Actually, play is an active ingredient of each daughter's life - the oldest, Aletheia engages her art without fear of mess, the middle daughter, Kara, takes dance underwater, or up a ropes course, as she continues to expand her movement repertoire.
But back to the pool. As the hot afternoon lazed on by, we were greatly amused by the antics of two brothers, aged 12 and 10, who cheerfully and imaginatively entertained themselves with mock fights over swimming goggles, splash contests, and a version of tag where one person starts on the pool deck and the other tries to swim across the pool without being caught. Every time the waiting partner looks and the swimmer hasn't left the edge, the "waiter" take one step further away. It seemed, no matter what, the swimmer almost always lost. Watching these barefoot boys, we found ourselves blessed by the joy and freshness they exuded, and, like Whittier, wished them back the delight of their youth.
Although children, especially when freed to explore and create, may more easily find the treasures Whittier's poem describes, I shudder to think these moments need to end with our entrance into "adulthood." Creativity and imagination, connection to nature and wonder are gifts too precious to be packed away, stored like outgrown boots and parkas in some attic trunk. Perhaps we need the summertime to re-discover the fun of our childhood: the sense of freedom as one heads into the woods, hiking a new trail, the thrill that comes with jumping waves at the beach or slipping on a pair of waterskis, the wonder of gazing at a sky filled with stars, the thrill of seeing baby birds learning to fly, or harvesting the first plump tomatoes.
It's never too late to be barefoot again, to take off the leather that keeps our feet from connecting with the pulsing life that surges through the soil beneath our soles. Being young is truly a state of mind. Bless the barefoot child you were, and resurrect him or her as often as you have the opportunity.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,--
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,--
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!
Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!
Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to treat the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!