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With Friends Like These

Justing Chang 


“Now, my tree-climbing days long behind me, I often think about the lasting value of those early, deliciously idle days. I have come to appreciate the long view afforded by those treetops. The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” –Richard Louv

I grew up in Sacramento, CA until I moved to NC when I was ten. People often attribute sunny beaches and metropolitan bustle to California when they first think of it. However, many people do not realize that those spots are only limited to the big city parts. Sacramento was considerably more rural and quieter and with nearly no neighbors around, I was forced to entertain myself in the woods. It was these formative years that led me to my own appreciation for the therapeutic solitude the woods can present as well as great entertainment.

Where I grew up in California, there were quite a few olive groves growing all around our property. Every summer, the air was redolent with the fragrance of millions of olives ripening and rotting in the hot sun. The pacific breeze would carry the scent for miles and no matter how far I run in any direction, the scent would always be at my back. I also had no friends. Nothing was wrong with me, the neighborhood was very sparse and the nearest neighbor to me was a retired couple who raised emus and goats in their expansive ranch-esque backyard. My parents worked full time and I was often left to my own devices.


The olive grove behind my house was my own personal Terabithia. But I had no grandiose imaginary kingdoms that I lorded over. Where some children might have ordained pets and animals as citizens, I would dig holes to trap those creatures. Where other children might have created hideaways and secret forts, I would forget about those holes I dug and fall in a week later. Later, I moved to North Carolina where the outdoor profile was profoundly different. Here there were lots of deciduous trees as well as evergreens. But one of the biggest changes was that for the first time in my life I had neighbors. Playtime outside became markedly different from what I was used to and these new kids showed me the different ways I could be having fun in the woods.

These kids showed me the “correct” way of playing out in the woods. They would proudly flash their Boy Scout knowledge of how to properly set a fire or how to tie a knife to a stick to make a spear. We would traipse around the woods pretending we were scouts for a rebellion faction fighting an oppressive regime and make what we thought were trail marks with stones and sticks. Arguments were had about whether moss grows on the north or south facing side of a tree and many times did we find ourselves fleeing from irate groundskeepers that tended to the golf courses that bordered the forest’s edges.

There is no wrong or right way to play in the woods, but what I will concede to is that a furthered knowledge base of your surroundings permits you to fully utilize the materials on hand in your journey of having fun. Maps that we constructed from observing the topology of the land played part in our fantasies of fighting off a tyrannical government rule. Employing the uses of boughs in trees to lash saplings against granted us shelters that we imagined using as hideouts, and finding that one raspberry bush in the woods convinced us that we could live off the land like Davy Crockett. Looking back, we were egregiously wrong about so many things. Moss typically grows facing north, the snakes we found swimming in water were probably dangerous, and using the electrical transformer box as a heat source during the winter was not bushman ingenuity.

This forever tramping about would soon subside, as I grew older until I simply did not have the same enthusiasm about playing outside. I will not say that I became sedentary and unsatisfied with the woods, just that things had changed and other priorities drove me to pass the wilderness right by. Neighborhood friendships had been long ignored at this point and the familiar camaraderie was no longer there.  However, being required to work out in the solitude of the woods for this course, reminded me of those fun times in my life. I’ve grown up a little since then but I like to think that one can never get too old for their own imagination.

Class of 2014 



Works Cited

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Chapel HillNC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2005. Print.