Every Child Needs a Cabin is a series I have envisioned for a long time. A Cabin sat at the very center of my childhood, and sits now at the very center of my fondest memories. That isn’t to say that I spent more than a few weeks in a year there; the Cabin was in the mountains, and school was in the valley, and the latter demanded much more of my time than I liked. But the Cabin was ever at the center of my thoughts. If I could have put a bumper sticker on my bicycle, it would have said, “I’d rather be at the Cabin.”
Every child needs a Cabin like the one I had (and have.) A Cabin is the perfect place for almost any child, for running around screaming at the top of one’s lungs for no reason, for engaging with other children in a “dust clods vs. rotten wood” battle, for seeing who can get their spit (or urine, as was often the case for us) to shoot the farthest. A Cabin is also the perfect place to learn many of life’s important lessons, and that is the crux of this series. Each week I hope to center on a particular life lesson, and how the Cabin taught me that lesson more clearly than any other teacher could hope to.
First, however, I must make clear what I mean by “Cabin” (rather different from a simple, uncapitalized “cabin.” By the way, those of you who grew up with a Cabin may freely skip this introduction, as you will not learn anything here that you do not already know.) A Cabin is a structure, of course, rather like a house, though its exact nature is not important. What is important is the surroundings. My Cabin, for instance, lies in the forested mountains outside Butte, Montana. For miles around it, there is absolutely nothing but pine and fir trees, piles of boulders, steep slopes, creeks, and ponds. In short, paradise. Your Cabin need not lie in exactly the same sort of environs, but it is essential that it be similarly isolated from “civilization,” that it be surrounded by the wild, the free, the untouched by human hands.
That is what a Cabin must have. Next, it is important to outline what a Cabin must not have. It must not have TV, video games, Internet service, or telephones. There must be nothing to distract children from the central enterprise of any stay at a Cabin: adventure. (Amenities like plumbing and battery-powered radios are not strictly prohibited, but I recommend they be used sparingly. Books and board games should be present in large numbers.)
Many of us adults think of children as innocent, ignorant things, running wide-eyed through the world, laughing and playing and knowing nothing of responsibility or toil. We really ought to know better. Children have serious business to see to, business which includes building and demolishing, fighting and capitulating, forming alliances and dissolving them. The most serious such business is learning, and children manage to do that effortlessly, whether they notice it or not. Every child needs a Cabin, because a Cabin is the perfect place for the business of childhood.
Come back next Wednesday for the first of many stories from my Cabin, and the first of many lessons learned therein.