My eighteen-year-old daughter, Willa, has just returned safely from her wilderness survival immersion — back to our usual urban survival immersion: Brooklyn. I try not to be an anxious mom, but I barely slept the two weeks she spent in a natural environment. Ironically, I slept peacefully as soon as she got back, despite news of a shooting at nearby Union Street and Franklin Avenue. (For Brooklyn Crime Map, click here.)
Okay, I admit, before Willa left, I made her sit with me for about an hour, reading every line on the website of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School, where she’d be staying in the wilds of Wisconsin (click here). I learned that — and this may be obvious to folks who know about camping — while connecting to nature from her tent in the woods, our Brooklyn-born, Brooklyn-raised child would have no electricity. Which sounds cool, until you think: no air conditioning. Also, no phone or texting, no computer, no video games, no Google maps, no refrigerator. And she was traveling alone by Greyhound halfway across the country and back to do this, voluntarily!
Once Willa hit camp, there was no way to know how she was doing. I told myself, she’s eighteen. She has to learn to take care of herself. It’s time. I tried to keep calm by reminding myself that the Teaching Drum web site was well written. She was with careful people, who took time with their grammar: Nothing would go wrong.
It turned out that our Brooklyn kid loved the woods. The lack of fridge made no difference her first day, spent fasting to cleanse her urban body. After that, lunch was raspberries picked after paddling across a lake. Dinner was steamed milkweed and fresh-caught fish. If there were leftovers, she just wrapped’em up and popped them in the marsh. If she wanted to find north, she looked at the sun. If it was too cloudy to see the sun, she didn’t leave camp. Why leave, anyway? The clouds were peaceful. The trees were tall.
This weekend, with Willa back home, we went about our usual outdoor chores: mowing the grass and clipping the leaves that grow from the stump of our street tree, originally planted not long after we moved in, when Willa was five. By last summer, that tree was half dead from years of fighting to survive on our street, and the city took it down. What’s left of it is still doing its best, but it will never be a tree. Maybe Willa has the right idea after all, heading out to the woods to grow.