My apologies to all for my recent absence; these last two weeks I’ve been snowbound in the District of Columbia, bedridden by a freakish bout of garbanzo dip food poisoning, and, most recently, wandering through the natural splendor of the Rocky Mountains. It is that most recent adventure that I write about today, but first a little back story.
When I was about six years old, my parents brought me to Denver for a business trip. After the meeting in the city, which I do not recall at all, we traveled up the steady climb of route 70 though the rough foothills and into the soaring heights of the Rocky Mountains. The drive through the twisting switchback roads into the Fraser Valley made an indelible imprint on my young mind. Being quite young at the time, and having read Tolkien’s The Hobbit through and through, I was enchanted. The mountains stretched from the valley floor and reached all the way to the clouds above, like the mountain pass of Caradhras. I had my original Game Boy and a few books with me, as I usually did while traveling, but during the whole ride I was unable to shift my gaze from the car window. To my young mind, the trip was a grand adventure. Surely, hidden among the tall pines and stony crags of these impossible megaliths lived all manner of goblins and dwarves. I will never forget the journey for two reasons: one being the fantastic views and otherworldly beauty of the mountains, the other being a crusty hot dog I ate at a road side diner along the way which caused me to vomit profusely for the rest of the trip.
You will be glad to know that my most recent trip went much more smoothly. While food poisoning was once again part of my adventure, thankfully I got it out of the way before I left. I will spare you the horrific details of my regurgitation escapade; suffice it to say I may never look at hummus the same way again. Thankfully, I overcame my illness in time and last week, more than two decades after my initial foray, I returned to Colorado. I was greeted at Denver international airport by my mother and our charter van which would take us and eight other souls up the very same route I had traversed in my youth to the Winter Park Ski resort nestled in the heart of Arapahoe National Park. As it happens I was seated next to a young man named Jerald, a child of six years who was visiting the mountains for the first time.
Jerald, I learned, came all the way from Louisiana and had never been skiing in his life, nor had he ever seen a snow storm. As I am sure you can imagine, I was very eager to see his reaction to the sights that had so impressed themselves on me. As our van began its steady climb through the foothills, I enthralled the other captive passengers with a discussion on my knowledge of topographic lift and federal policies relating to the preservation of national parks. Jerald had lots of questions, and I had lots of answers and was delighted to be making a new friend. I paused in my discourse, much to the relief of some, only to sneer as we passed by a certain diner and began to roll up the switchback roads to our final destination.
Without warning, a flurry of snow descended into the pass. I gazed about with awe as the images I had cherished since childhood were recalled in full force and made even more glorious with the addition of this natural wonder. An accident on the narrow roads ahead gave me the opportunity to exit the vehicle and take in the breathtaking spectacle in full panoramic. I now have new memories to augment the old and that alone made the trip worthwhile. However, when I returned to the van I was dismayed to find that Jerald was not even peering out the window. Instead he had turned his attention to Spongebob Squarepants: Atlantis Squarepantis developed by THQ for the Nintendo DS.
To my credit, I did not vocalize my displeasure to either Jerald or his oblivious parents. While I will remember my trip fondly, this one aspect of it struck me as being rather sad. Here a young person was afforded a chance to experience one of earth’s great wonders, but instead spent the time playing a game. It feels like something very important was missed, an opportunity which may never present itself again, and despite my enduring affection for the video gaming medium I feel that it played a part in this unfortunate event.
The great journeys of our lives, events which take us far outside our normal routines, are sacred things. They deserve no less than the full measure of our curiosity and attention because stepping into the great wide world expands our understanding of it and of ourselves; this is especially true for children. That being said, there are moments during the course of modern travel which are, again especially for children, dull and restless times. During the long waits at terminals, the endless stuffy confinement of flights, or the lengthy imprisonment of car rides, the human mind begs for some form of escape. Mobile game systems like the Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable are convenient vehicles for such release, but to use them to the exclusion of an entire journey is a terrible shame.
The answer, as it is with so many problems, is a balance: a balance which adults must manage for themselves and for their children. I would no more deny a child a game system than I would a good book, but that doesn’t mean they should read all the time either. This is a world filled with wonderful sights and experiences both in the natural and digital worlds, and there is no reason a child of this modern age should grow up without experiencing both.