Every time the bike appears in the memory, the condemnations are heard in the echoes.
Pauses reflect on the news stories from the spring when parents in an Eastern U.S. city daring to let their children throw off the chains of gaming and actually go outside to play — by themselves. Some of the overly zealous do-gooders even called the cops.
Guilty, these throwbacks in the realm of raising children, were of the crime of free-range parenting. Mom and Dad weren’t outside with the young’ns and nor was any help hired to supervise. The kids were going it alone, the “it” being playing outdoors in the yard, at the neighborhood park, next door or whatever. It was like we used to do as kids.
What a fuss was raised in the media and in the chambers.
So, one had to wonder what the charges would be, assessed by similar Stepfordians, for the social crime of free-range grandparenting.
Camping is recreation in our parts, therefore a recreation and loosely related to sport, somewhat or somewhat not qualifying for attention in this space. We’re taking it anyway.
The free-range aspect actually never came to mind until afterwards as the present and just-after was too dominant at the time. Actually, when the young woman wearing the green Oregon Ducks sweatshirt came marching up the path, herding two of our grandchildren back to the motorhome we’d parked in the Philipsburg Bay Campground at Georgetown Lake, I’d wondered, with an uneasiness, what it was that they’d done.
She smiled nervously as she reached our camp and found us outside of the RV. The kids straddled bikes and kept their helmets strapped to their heads. They looked a little scared.
“They’re OK,” the woman announced. “But, they were chased by a moose.”
I felt my stomach flutter, a shock travel up my spine and my knees want to sag. I felt guilt.
“A moose?” I asked, hoping I heard wrong.
When we went to relax, maybe we overdid it, the complacency part of it. We’d been to the campground a few times before and always with grandkids. We packed their bikes, checked out the surroundings and turned them loose to ride on the paved roadways, searching for friends from town, or new ones they hadn’t yet met and who lived in other places.
Part of the checking the place out always involved a walking tour of the grounds, all the way to the boat launch, and back up the loop on the return. We’d talk to some other campers along the way, asking about possible recent incidents and what wild animals had been around.
“The camp host says he hasn’t seen any bears at all this summer,” one temporary resident said. “And, we haven’t seen a moose all week.”
With the scouting report conducted, we told the kids, ages 9 and 7, they could go ahead and take their bicycles out for a spin. It’s not that we’re not protective, but I always wanted my kids and, now, theirs to experience a little slighter supervision now and then just so they might know a little something when the adults aren’t around and the kids find themselves in a tight spot.
Well, one occurred.
The moose was a young bull and likely more curious than cranky.
Madison, 9, had whirred downhill and pulled up on the roadway, turning her head to watch her cousin arrive at the same spot. The lake and the launch sat just a bit beyond the road. Brandin, 7, reached the edge and stopped before crossing the pavement.
He looked to his right and a moose stood up from under a stand of trees.
Brandin, well, was excited. So was Madison. So was the moose. So, too, apparently was the woman from Oregon, headed back to her camp from the lake shore.
Brandin figured his best chance to put some distance between himself and the animal was to jump on his bike and pedal like he was hooked up to a generator in a power outage. Madison wasn’t sure what she could do, but felt she needed to stand with him.
The moose actually seemed OK with the kids while they stood or walked. However, those contraptions they climbed on top of with the wheels and chains and all those moving pieces were a wonder, apparently. The young bull started to trot to check it all out.
The kids pumped. The moose closed ground.
The woman from Oregon dropped whatever she carried in her hands and called to these two youngsters she had never met. She commanded them to drop their bikes and run to her. A man stepped out of his camper with a gun — just in case the big animal got too close to the kids.
“To be honest with you,” the woman told the grandfather while her eyes were still large from experiencing the ordeal, “if that moose would have continued to chase them toward me, would’ve kept coming, I’m not sure I would’ve stayed. I might have left them and saved myself, first.”
Well, the moose halted. Perhaps the noise of the campground, dialed up by the goings-on of the moment, scared him away. He turned, the witnesses said, and pushed his way back into the bushes and trees, nudging his way toward the water at an inlet south of the launch.
“How close did he get?” we asked.
“Close!” Brandin gushed as he gasped for more air, depleted from trying to outrace a moose.
We thanked the woman for saving our free-range grandchildren and then took some time to calm them in the RV. Later, we walked them back to the water and the moose was in the lake. He ignored the crowd of people staying busy with fishing, boating, wading and swimming really not so far away.
The night before, two teenagers from Michigan were fishing on the launch when the grandfather was making his tour of the grounds. We talked about the lake, the area, the state and, of course, the animals in the vicinity.
“Gee, it would make my day if I saw a moose,” the older teen said, exuberantly.
The next afternoon he got his chance. As we strolled on the launch with the grandkids a few hours after their adventure, one I’m sure they’ll remember forever, the teenagers, with their dad driving, came up on the launch in a pickup truck. The one who wanted to see the moose got out of the passenger side and looked toward the lake. The moose hoofed along the roadway, maybe 50 yards behind the truck. I went to point the moose out to the visitor but the boy had already turned around in time to see the animal from not as wide a distance as he seemed to hope. His, eyes, too, were wide as he hurriedly moved around the truck as he informed us, “Yeah! I know! I know!”
The moose moved north. The rest of us moved to camp. For us, that was to the far southeast corner of the campground and we didn’t see the moose again the rest of our stay.
Those free-range critics would have a field day.