Last week I went to take pictures of the fourth-graders enjoying Living History Day at the museum in Quincy. They were dressed up in pioneer costume, doing all kinds of pioneering activities like baking biscuits in a woodstove oven and churning butter.
They learned to sew buttons, pan for gold, make drip candles, wash laundry using a washboard and make jerky.
Their hats and costumes were precious — bonnets that hid their hair and hung over their faces, long dresses, cowboy boots and hats, leather vests and dungarees.
It sure took me back to my own days of romanticizing the pioneers and their westward journeys, their dawn to dusk hard-working lives.
Growing up in Boston made it easy for me to long for the wild, wild West; the vast open expanses of the prairies and the rugged mountains of the Continental Divide.
My mom grew up in Boise and every few years our family would pack up the station wagon, hitch on the tent trailer and hit the road for the West.
How I loved those trips! Each time we went, we took in the amazing sights along the way.
From Niagara Falls to the Midwestern prairies and the national parks of the west, we set up camp each night, built our campfire and enjoyed the age-old pastime of gazing into the fire.
Of course I knew we had it much easier than the pioneers who made their way out West by covered wagon.
While it took them months upon months to make the trek, battling all kinds of dangers en route, we made the trip in five or six days.
The only battles we fought were those in the car, between us siblings who always wanted the window seat, or at least to not be touched while we sweltered in the heat of the non-air-conditioned car.
When it was time for bed, we used the campground restrooms to brush our teeth and wash up.
Then we would retire to the tent trailer or the back of the station wagon, where we didn’t have to worry about wild animals, marauding bandits or Indians.
Next morning, after a quick breakfast, we’d pack up, break down the tent trailer and be on the road again for another 500 miles.
We never got caught in a snowstorm. We never ran out of water or food. We never had to shoot a lame horse or bury one of our party who had fallen ill for one of a hundred different reasons.
Those cross-country trips with my family instilled a real love of nature in me. There is nothing I like better than to be camping out in nature, enjoying clean air, water and spectacular scenery.
Again, I know the pioneers did not have the luxuries of coolers, gas stations, established campgrounds, grocery stores and all the other amenities we take so much for granted these days.
But one thing I think I share with the pioneers is an adventurous spirit, a hankering for the call of the wild.
I’ve done some crazy things in my life, like hitchhiking thousands of miles with a girlfriend when we were just 18 years old. Besides the usual vehicles a hitchhiker attracts — cars, trucks, vans and big rigs — we also had the bright idea to hitchhike airplane and boat rides.
I’ve sailed off into the wild blue yonder on catamarans and outrigger canoes — without engines, running lights or radios.
I’ve gone down into the earth inside steaming lava tubes, jumped off cliffs into rivers, been swept across lava rock reefs by ocean waves.
I’ve had rattlesnakes coil and rattle at me, ready to strike. I’ve been surrounded by barracudas, circling around, eyeballing me like prey.
But I’ve lived to tell the tales, and never really felt that endangered (well, there was that time … no — I’ll save that for another day!).
The point is I admire the pioneers of yesteryear, the adventurers who went into the unknown to seek their fortune, or more likely their living.
I respect those explorers who entered uncharted territory, be it rivers, oceans, mountains, desert: it takes faith and trust in the universe to have the guts to leave the security of home and venture forth into the unknown.
So I’m glad those fourth-graders got a taste of the pioneer life. And I hope some of them are inspired to chart new territory.
I believe in Socrates’ saying: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There are many ways to examine that life, and for me, nature offers the finest and most wondrous opportunities for exploration and examination one could ever hope for.