Drive Slow Children signIf the history of our planet could be compressed into 24 hours, we humans would account for little more than a minute. About nine minutes before that, dinosaurs roamed the globe, until a big rock fell from the sky, blew a hole in the ground somewhere south of Mexico, and evolved the dinosaurs into extinction.

In real time, about 250 million years ago, dinosaurs left footprints that became filled in with sand and other sediments, which compressed and would eventually decorate the capstone on rock walls of certain bridges where men fought and killed each other so their leaders could continue, or not, to base an economy on the unpaid labors of other men.

And before the dinosaurs, gazillions of marine bacteria died, sank to the bottom of the oceans, and became covered by sediment that squashed and cooked the tiny rascals’ carcasses into oil.  Even longer ago – about 600 million years ago – a volcano or two pushed molten rock to the surface a few miles west of where a judge in a county that would someday exist built the home in which I now live. On his roof were shingles made from petroleum and crushed basalt rock from that 600-million-year-old volcanic exhaust.

What is truly intriguing is looking at strata in rock formations, and thinking – in general terms, because I never have been really good remembering specific dates from more than 12,000 years ago – about how the mountains were made and unmade. There are some really interesting patterns out there. You follow a line along a formation, and suddenly it bends down. There is a place near Fountaindale where the rock has a double fold, like a rug that has been pushed up until it became so tall and heavy it fell over on itself.

At various points along the ridge, huge boulders pokes out of the surrounding dirt. Winter freezes turn water into ice, splitting the rock apart to lie in piles next to its parent. Spring thaw loosens the mud and, in a pattern some geologists call “drool,” the smaller pieces drift down the mountainside in broad rivers of rock.

I never tire of watching the evolution of this planet I call home.

“Go outside and play,” Mom would say, and off we went. That probably is why I have such a love for getting outside the confines of my house. I do not mind cold, and I’m not terribly opposed to rain, but the combination is about the only excuse for willingly imprisoning myself.

I thank my mom for my interest in rocks, critters and other “natural” things, though I contest the notion that humans are not “natural.” We had a sign on our half-mile driveway. “Drive Slow Children,” it warned anyone who mistook the two-track pathway for a dirt road instead of a driveway. Getting out of the house was not optional when I was growing up.

Results published last month of a two-year pilot study found that more than 10 percent of children had not visited a park, forest, beach or other “natural environment” for at least 12 months. Many youngsters spend less than an hour a day outdoors. Low income children, the report revealed, are less likely than more financially well-off kids to visit any wild place, and non-white children are less likely to get outside than white kids.

Research also indicates kids who spend time in the wild – even if only in a forested urban park – are better socialized, more relaxed, less obese – and more caring about the environment of which they are part.

But we need more signs declaring, “Drive slow, (free range) kids.”