“Don’t get off the train ’til Denver. . . .”

When I was 10 years old, my parents put me on a train with two other 10 year old boys – my friends Kurt and Steve.  We were headed for Denver. And a camp in Estes Park.  Skyline Ranch.  The  three of us were alone.  No adult supervision.  My father admonished “Son – don’t get off the train ’til Denver.”  He handed me a ten dollar bill for food.  And that was it. 

Once there, every day, I rode horses, shot BB guns, hiked, swam and shoveled sand. Yes – sand. After winning a junior rodeo, I was given the task with Marvin B. (also age 10) of rounding up the horses each morning.   We had to rise at 5:30 a.m., walk out past the corral, fence off a dirt road and walk into a high plains pasture of several hundred acres. There were cows, horses and a bull. “Flap your poncho at the bull if he charges you” was the advice given to us. So two 10 year old boys headed off alone.  On foot – into the high grass.  Looking for horses in the gray twilight of dawn.

The cows paid us little mind.  The bull mercifully stayed away (“it’s those punks“).  When the pack of horses would see us, they would cock their ears back (“danger”) then forward (“huh”?) then normal (“oh it’s them“) and begin galloping past us toward the corral. They knew we would feed them. So we hiked the mile or so back to the corral with a weather eye on the bull – who kept a weather eye on us. All the horses – Arab, Bubbles, Chief, Dakota, Eagle, Hi Boy, Indian and the others – would be standing at parade rest in the corral. Marvin and I would put 2 cups of oats in each feed bag and slip it over their ears. Then we’d lead them (“come on Bubbles“) to the fence, tether and saddle them.  No adults were ever around. 

Kids today have a tough time developing independence.  You don’t need to do it on a ranch – at dawn.  With a 900 pound bull giving you the evil eye.  But I believe there must be challenges for kids to face or they will have trouble as adults.  Today, we move in the direction of no grades (“oooh – it can damage ego“), no playing tag (“too rough“), no dodge ball (“too violent“), no pointing your finger like a gun (“eeek!”), safe spaces (you are nuts if you believe in safe spaces), teachers cannot raise their voice at or touch a child (“don’t you dare raise your voice to my little Dwarfus”), and of course no – often well-deserved – corporal punishment (see posts of 11/23/11 and 2/1/12).  It’s one thing to protect.  It’s another to insulate.  As I see it, insulating kids from challenge has negative consequence.  For everyone.