Slowing life down has been a revelation for me in several ways. I thought we would need to fill the gas tank when we went to town the other day, until I noted it was still on full, and realized I hadn’t been off the place for more than a week. And perfectly content not to, which is nice. With the price of everything rising, and income declining, saving on fuel is a big help.

A slower pace reminded me of childhood summers and how lucky I was to grow up in a time of limited finances. There were always fun things to do, even though we might only go to town three or four times all summer. Neighbors sometimes dropped in of an evening, and while the adults visited or played cards, we youngsters walked up and down the road picking up pretty rocks, catching toads and letting them go. Climbed trees and made a playhouse on the roof of the chicken coop. Balanced on the top corral rail to see who might make it as a tightrope walker. Sat in the open door of the barn loft, and sang to the moon, and always a game of hide and seek. Often, we convinced the parents to allow an overnight visit, which led to plans for a gathering of families on Sunday to fish or picnic at a nearby lake and retrieve the wayward kids.

As an only kid, I spent a lot of time with my nose in a book, or bareback on my horse checking out wildflowers. Nature provided great entertainment, from gathering cottonwood fluff to make pillows for dolls, to making roads in sand for little cars, or using marbles as families and building a whole community. Wet sand shapes well into buildings, and even forms furniture for a pretend house dug out of a bank. I don’t know if it was a parent or one of my playmates who taught me that you can make a whistle out of a lilac leaf or wide piece of grass stretched tightly between thumbs, and that breaking a dead cottonwood twig at the joint will reveal a perfect five-pointed star.

My friends and I picked wildflower blossoms and sucked the nectar out. Buttercups and bluebells were easiest, but red clover tastes best. Did we discover these things on our own? Likely, because our parents worked constantly and wouldn’t have had time to show us.

I always had a “hideout” somewhere, in a grain bin in the hayloft, under low hanging branches, or on a roof top. This is where I kept treasures; bits of colored glass, pretty stones, or a snail shell. My girlfriends and I made a clubhouse in the woodpile and vowed no boys were allowed. Not that we had many boy playmates, but you have to have some boundaries… The junk piles—every ranch has one—were the where we established our territories and gathered bits and pieces of discards to furnish our space.

Now and then we appeared in the kitchen of whoever’s house complaining of boredom, but our moms just handed us a sandwich made with fresh baked bread and homemade jelly, or a handful of warm cookies, and sent us back outside. They knew, even if we didn’t, that we were simply tired and needed a break.

I feel sorry for today’s kids with their electronic devices and organized activities. Parents seem to believe it’s necessary to provide entertainment, when all the kids really need is an opportunity to get outdoors and use their imaginations.

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