I never knew where they’d hunt the turtles, but they brought them back in buckets. I kept one, and named it Nicole. We dug pits in their backyard, set pulleys in trees, and ranged around on our bicycles just down the street, turning circles like small pale-skinned vultures. We didn’t know that our neighbors were a network of spies, informing our parents. We didn’t know that the only time we were truly free was when we dove through the underbrush, picking up prickle burrs and climbing high into the forest canopy. They never saw us there, the watchful eyes, and the better for us, perhaps they reasoned, learning independence. We were independent little things, and we made our own adventures, pretending to be stranded on deserted islands in the tropics when we pulled ourselves from the waves of an above-ground swimming pool, seeking out signs of animals we’d never met before under the arms of old oak trees.
We were trusted to wander far, and when we weren’t, we slipped leashes and struck out on our own. We were caught and dragged back by ears or arms, given stern lectures, but the call was too strong to ignore. There were river banks to explore. There were patches of woods between neighborhoods, and daunting pines to climb, half-trusting their boughs to bear weight.
I look around me at the kids I know today, in this different time and place, and wonder about their wanderings. There’s a lot I don’t see of their existence. There’s a lot that’s different from mine. Was it better as a kid for us to have been turned loose? Was it better to be able to roam the back ways on bicycles and find our own paths? I can’t make a judgement call. I only wonder, do they trust them own sense of freedom?