I spent my entire childhood in rural areas including Ashley, ND, where I lived to the age of 7, and central Missouri where I still reside!
Growing up in the rural parts of the middle of America is a little different than other parts of the country. There's a little more freedom, a lot more nature, and whole lot of animals out there. Here's some things I think of when I think back on my childhood in my mid-western small town.
1. Sticks Could Be Anything
When you grow up around or in the woods, your imagination just takes over and turns sticks into anything. Sticks become hiking staffs, swords, guns, wands, snake catching rods (see number 3), tepees, fishing rods, etc, etc.
Some of the best hours of my childhood were spent swinging sticks around out in the woods at imaginary foes with my friends; which also lead to more than a couple of stick related injuries.
2. Your Parents Let You Wander Around in the Wilderness for Some Reason
If you grew up in the boonies, chances are you spent hours in the woods by yourself, or with a sibling or friend. I don't think I would let my son go out alone in the woods at the age of 9 for more than 10 minutes, but for some reason, all of my friends and I were out there, unsupervised, swinging around sticks and throwing acorns at each other like undomesticated chimps. Blowing up grasshoppers with firecrackers, and probably doing a little trespassing.
Ahh, the (slightly dangerous) good old days.
On your adventures through the fields, or woods, there was always plenty of wildlife to check out. Whether following deer trails, catching reptiles or amphibians, or (if you were brave) rodents, there was always something out there waiting to be found. Most commonly I would catch little fence lizards, skinks, ring neck snakes or garter snakes.
But there was always a chance to catch something larger and more risky! 5 foot blacksnakes, king snakes, chipmunks, and feral cats (you probably won't catch a feral cat more than once, rabies shots are expensive and no fun).
I would spend many of my summer days outside catching box turtles and lizards. Doing my best not to harm them or keep as pets, but just to say hi, and that I had done it. (Almost like real life pokemon).
When exploring outside, there was almost always materials laying around to construct a fort out of. My brother and I would spend anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 days constructing forts out of anything we could find! There was always the simple sticks leaned around a tree in tepee fashion, all the way to the full on secret dug out with a woven stick and leaf roof with a fire pit in the middle. There was little that felt as accomplishing than building a"big" fort to have secret meetings in. There was also always lookout windows in case any intruders decided to move in on our turf, (Even though our nearest neighbors were a mile away and in their 60s...).
I am pretty confident that if there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, my brother and I could build a fort to keep our families safe in, thanks to our intense childhood training.
5. You Were More Likely to Swim in a Creek Than a Public Pool
Where I grew up in central Missouri, there were creeks down almost every dirt road, and they were all considered swimming holes by the locals. There was nothing more refreshing than taking an early morning/just before noon swim in a crystal clear creek. The kind of creek where you could see straight to the bottom no matter how deep it was. My friend Tim and I would take a walk down the overgrown path through the woods about a half mile down the hill through the woods and stinging nettles from my house in the morning with some floaties and swim in the cool water all by ourselves. It was mostly relaxing (except when I would throw live crawdads at him, causing him immense panic) and my early teen acne would magically clear up after a dip in the cold, clean water.
If you happened to go swimming after noon on a hot summer day, though you better be ready for a sweaty cesspool of drunken rednecks, swearing, drinking, and freely whizzing into your precious natural oasis.
In case you haven't noticed, all of these points are not without at least some sort of risk!
I could go on and on about the adventures that are possible when you grow up in a wooded, sparsely populated area, full of trustworthy folks, but I don't want to make any city slickers too jealous.
It's not too late to get outdoors and do a little exploring! Visit a state park, a local trail, or even just take a walk on the roadside. you may be surprised at what you will find, and you will probably have some fun along the way
Please share your outdoor experiences in the comments below!