Is It Really Safe Out There For Kids Anymore?

As a farm boy you quickly learned to appreciate and respect the outdoor lifestyle.   In most cases, growing up on the farm gave you few choices to do otherwise.   I can fondly remember at the ripe old age of 8 or 9 coming home…getting off the school bus…changing into my “work clothes”…and heading off to the woods.   Back then it was one of my nightly chores that dad had carefully laid out for me.   He milked cows…and it was MY RESPONSIBILITY to have the cows home for the evening milking session or else I would jeopardize my weekly allowance.

Now stop and think about it.   Here’s a young child trusted with his three dogs to go round up and chase home an entire herd of cattle, each of which weighed at least 10 times as much as I did at the time.   Obviously my dad trusted the docile nature of his cows…but he also trusted his young boy not to provoke the stock into doing something out of their character.

In most cases the journey back into the pasture would last no more than 1/2 mile or so…but it gave me an excuse to explore the outdoors as well as earn my first real income.   Most evenings it was pretty uneventful…in fact, in time the cows knew the routine so well that it was downright boring.   When the cows saw me and the dogs…they knew it was time to head back from the lush pasture where they had been grazing.

On one particular afternoon things suddenly changed in my world.   The boredom usually experienced walking the narrow cow-paths back home was quickly shattered when I came face to face with a red fox.   We starred at each other for what seemed like an eternity…but I’m sure in reality it was only a split second.   The fox darted in one direction and I remember darting in another direction.   Heck, at the time I thought it was a hungry wolf…and a kid my age had no right becoming the canine’s next meal.   I ran home only to exclaim to my father that I should no longer be chasing the cows home if there are hungry wolves out in the pasture.   Of course, this was his opportunity to explain to me that what I had seen was not a wolf…but merely a red fox.   He reassured me there were no wild animals on the farm looking to cause me any harm.

Okay, let’s fast forward life by over thirty years until today.   I still live on the same farm.   I no longer have to chase cattle for my father…those days ended quite some time ago.   Yet, in most regards it is the very same farm with the same pastures as it has always contained.   But indeed something is different today.

I now have a 9–year old stepson and lately I’ve been struggling with the question of should I let him go out in the pastures and woods alone as I did through most of my growing years.   Granted, I grew up on the farm and was probably a bit more savvy about the outdoors having been raised since birth in that environment…but that’s not what this concern is about.   At least not completely.

Yesterday, I took my stepson to one of my favorite hills way out yonder and helped him learn how to snow board.   As we were walking home he asked me if he could come out here alone sometime.   I said, “sure…I used to go all over this farm when I was your age.   Not a problem.”

So, today he went back to that hill alone while I worked in the office.   Chalk it up to being a concerned parent, I guess…but while he was gone I started to have second thoughts about letting this 80 pound child out in the woods alone with no dogs for distraction.   Was it wise for me to encourage him to do something I simply took for granted during my growing years?   Well, I’m still struggling a bit with that decision.

Here’s my main concern.   COYOTES!   Back in the days when I was a youngster there virtually were no wildlife dangers present on a farm in southern Minnesota.   I can’t exactly make that same claim today.   In fact, when I go outside nights right now I can sometimes hear packs of coyotes that must number well in excess of a dozen critters.   Truth is…these coyotes are killing young calves and small deer when the opportunity presents itself…so why not a young boy simply enjoying the snow with his new snow board?

The explosion of the coyote population is quite an interesting phenomenon.   Back when I was a young trapper cutting my teeth on learning how to make dirt hole sets…the thought of possibly catching a coyote (as opposed to a desired red fox) was simply not existent.   Today, that same trap-set would more likely render a coyote than Mr. Red.   Oh, how things have changed!

And, unfortunately, so has my attitude in allowing my young stepchild to go back in the woods alone.   As much as I would like him to have the same experience of living fearless on the farm…it’s a chance I just can’t take today.   Maybe I’m being overly cautious…certainly I’ve not heard of a widespread problem of coyotes attacking young children…but it will happen.   Sooner or later there will be a report of a coyote attack in this area.   That’s my prediction…as these vermin are getting more and more bold in their activities around people.   I certainly know it has happened in other parts of the country…so why not here?

Part of being a responsible outdoorsman and parent is anticipating and appreciating the potential dangers for a young child…and then taking steps necessary to avoid any potential problem.   My better judgment tells me that what I largely took for granted over 30 years ago cannot be viewed in the same light today.   The outdoors, in particular the critters that inhabit it, has changed…even though the farm where we still reside has much the same physical appearance as it has throughout my entire life.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.