Last week I went for a walk below the Scarborough Bluffs, the 12,000 year old cliff along the north shore of Lake Ontario created by a giant glacial river during the last ice age.
After a long winter, I walked in the spring sunshine there, and explored the woods that grow in the deep gullies or breaks between the cliffs, remembering my first visits to that place in 1961 when I was 15 yrs old and newly arrived in Toronto. There was no road access then (you had to go down the cliff and climb back) so there were almost no people.
This day I met a police officer searching the woods. I asked him what he was looking for, and he explained that an 11 year old boy was lost, and they were trying to find him. Behind him a police car drove along the beach, and I saw other officers searching.
After getting a description of the boy so I could assist in the search, I asked him how long he had been missing.
“About half an hour,” he replied.
Half an hour? How do you know someone is lost when they’ve been gone for only half an hour? Well, presumably his parents or guardians were there at the beach, and maybe they became concerned as soon as he was out of their sight.
I couldn’t help remembering how I began my own lone explorations in wild places at the age of 11, on the outskirts of another city.
Well, you might say, times are different now. There are more dangers now.
Are there? I’m not so sure. The 1950s were not the benign happy decade that they have been portrayed to be. There were plenty of bad people then. In my working-class neighborhood there were gangs who were feared. Getting beaten up was a common experience, and we had our share of murders too.
We were only a few years removed from a gigantic war in which people had killed each other by the millions – the one Kurt Vonnegut called “humanity’s second unsuccessful attempt at suicide.”
In my experience, any wild place with few people in it is safer than any street. Two weeks ago, along the main street a few blocks from my home, a disturbed/angry driver deliberately killed ten people and injured more.
But I came from a family of natural loners, and maybe that’s why I was given more freedom.
Besides that, I learned to watch out for myself. Or maybe it was instinctual. When I was walking in any wild place, my ear was alert to the sound of voices, even far off. I would re-direct my path to avoid them. I watched out too. During my years of lone wandering, I never got into trouble.
So, anyway, this day in 2018, I left the police behind and walked along the shore keeping an eye out for this boy, hoping I might find him first.
I hoped that, after explaining that he needed to present himself to the police, I could tell him that he was doing nothing wrong, but he should wait until he is a bit older – 15-16, maybe – to come back and resume his explorations.
Unfortunately I didn’t find him, but apparently the police did, for they soon disappeared, the search ended.
Well, I hope that boy does get to go on his own lone walkabouts one day, without the rest of society chasing after him.