The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Building walls

Walls block human ideas and wildlife migration, creating more problems than they solve.I recently overheard a parent ask his offspring what to do if he met someone on “technology” who he didn’t know, and who wanted to talk. The youngster said he would tell his teacher. And not talk to the stranger. The parent was proud his progeny had given the safe answer. I thought about the youngster’s future.

I remember the lesson well from my youth, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

True, a few families have suffered losses they can’t replace. Their children have been stolen or killed. But I wonder how many parents and grandparents sit with their tykes and, fearful that they will not be able to maintain sight and touch with their offspring, that one day they will look away for a minute and the youngster will disappear, caution the kids to be afraid of strangers.

“What do you do if a stranger stops his car and asks you to help him find his dog?”

According to the news, that’s what a strange man in a car asked one little girl. Stranger might stop to ask directions, but they don’t typically ask you to get in their car and help them find their dog. If I recall correctly, the youngster ran to tell her mom. Good answer.

But too many kids who don’t talk to strangers grow up to adults who don’t talk to strangers. We have fought wars against strangers whose only wish was to protect their home against our onslaught. I spent 20 years prepared to kill strangers who only wanted what I wanted — to get through a deployment and return home to their families.

Raise your hands, all who remember diving under your school desk during drills to prepare for Russian atom bombs exploding in our school playground. We eventually grew up to learn hiding under our desk was futile, but we did not learn to put away our fear of Russians. Rather, we have expanded the population of people we are afraid will do us harm.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of kids in other families, worshiping in other temples, speaking other languages, and too many of them have been taught to be afraid of us, and too often prove we are right to be afraid of them.

One thing I have noticed is, generally speaking, the more urban we become, the higher the walls we want between our home and “theirs.”

When I was a kid, I could climb on my bicycle and pedal around the county – and Dad would come home from work and mention I’d been seen 15 miles from home. Or just down to the other end of the lake. Everyone in town knew me. Worse, I sometimes thought, they knew my mom and dad.

I never could be sure, were I to go somewhere unexpected, when some adult acquaintance might comment innocently to Dad, “I saw your son this afternoon.” And Dad would come home from work and ask why I was where he had neglected to say I would be.

We all knew if I failed to make it home, someone would know where I had gone, where I fell off my bicycle, and broke my finger, and who (true story) had picked me up and taken me to the doctor.

I also lived and worked with far too many colleagues who visited the same ports I did, and came away having seen nothing, and met no one. It always seemed a waste of a opportunity, though. we need to do a better job of watching for each other. We can’t do that by building walls.


  1. Esther E. Randall

    April 23, 2017 at 18:28

    I grew up in Aiken SC, home of the Savannah River Site (then it was the ‘bomb plant’.) There were whole neighborhoods of vacant temporary houses erected for the influx of plant workers who soon moved into larger homes. My Father very emphatically instructed me not to ride my bike through those empty streets….for very obvious reasons….did I listen? Hell no!

  2. We do spend a lot of energy being afraid of people we don’t know, and especially of people who don’t even exist.

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