Then there was a brief pause in the conversation. “Do you have high-speed Internet up there?” the woman from New York asked.
Yes, I do.
Even here in northern Vermont, most of us are plugged in. We may not all have high-speed Internet access today, but we will soon. For many of us, technology enables us to live in a place like Stowe. We can be here and work there. And that’s a good thing.
But I also think that, ironically enough, it’s that very technology that threatens the way of life we’ve chosen in this little corner of the world. And the life we’ve chosen for our kids.
I know a lot of people who moved to the area for the sole purpose of raising a family here. They wanted their kids to grow up in fields and woods and mountains, surrounded by the warmth and security of small-town living.
When I became a parent eight years ago, I decided that the most important thing I wanted my child to know was how to create his own experience in life, without being reliant on anything or anyone else to create it for him. This requires resourcefulness, creativity and drive. The ability to make something out of seemingly nothing.
And I can’t think of a better place to learn these life skills than along the banks of the West Branch River or on a trek through the Mt. Mansfield State Forest.
Kids have been fishing the rivers and skiing the mountains of Stowe for generations. But the experience of childhood is changing everywhere, and Stowe is no exception.
Amid the peace and natural beauty that surrounds us, the pulse of the digital world is beating. Forget television. There is so much more vying for our kids’ attention these days.
I recently spent a morning with Arden Magoon, who was born in 1927 on a farm at the top of Taber Hill Road in Stowe. The eldest of four boys, Arden spent the bulk of his youth doing farm chores, going to school, and conducting independent research.
He was a curious boy. Fascinated by the world around him, Arden would scavenge for books in his grandmother’s attic, check them out from the library, and bring them home from school. He built his first telescope when he was 12 years old using what he learned in books and a slice of his own creativity.
As he grew older, Arden began spending more and more time in the woods. Even today, at age 84, he knows more about life beyond the edge of the local forests than anyone else alive. His predecessor, fellow woodlands lover Craig Burt, who died in 1965, would be proud to know that Arden is still heading out on daily trekking adventures, when the weather’s good enough. He’s drawn intricate maps of the area, complete with bear dens and moose sightings.
So here’s what I’m wondering — Who would Arden Magoon be if he were born today? Would today’s technology have gotten in the way of his discovery of the world around him, and a passion that has lasted a lifetime?
A number of books have been written about the benefits of children spending time in nature. For those of us fortunate enough to live in beautiful, rural northern Vermont, we don’t have to give much thought to whether our kids are getting enough exposure to the great outdoors. They’re living and breathing it every day.
But still, this is not the world Arden grew up in — even here in Stowe. With cellphones and iPods in virtually every pocket, kids are seldom alone. And although the advent of the Internet has made information increasingly easier to find, we have to worry about what else our children might stumble upon in the process. Dusty textbooks in grandma’s attic were a safer bet.
When I talk to old-timers like Arden, I envy the simplicity of his childhood. The choices were few. Playing a game, reading a book, indulging in a daydream. How could you go wrong?
I wonder, if young Arden had had a Nintendo DS, would he have built that first telescope — one of many?
To this day, Arden still doesn’t have a home phone, let alone a cellphone. I guess he figures he can find whom he needs when he needs them, and they know where to find him. And besides, he can’t afford the distraction. His life is busy enough — making globes of the solar system, drawing pictures of wildlife, and creating maps.
And with a cellphone in his pocket, he just might miss something. Arden is clued in to the world around him.
“At least I’ve looked around and used my brain once in a while,” he says. “There’s a lot of people with IQs higher than mine, but I just use mine better, I think you’ll find. … There’s a lot more to it that people don’t see.”