In honor of President's Day, I took my youngest son to a local tradition, the annual "Hatchet Hunt" (I've told you I live out in the country!). Despite having lived here for 10 years now, it's the first time I've ever been to the hunt. I try not to be awake that early on a vacation day, but my son was excited and I figured if the locals have been doing it for 100 years, it must be worth braving the cold and getting up at the crack of dawn.
I was mistaken.
Here's the deal. Back in the day, parents would take their kids out on a late winter morning and they'd actually hunt in the woods for hatchets. As in little axes. I'm not sure if it was an homage to the local Native American tribes or a tribute to George Washington and his cherry tree fiasco. At any rate, the little kids ran around the woods finding hatchets. A good time, apparently, was had by all.
Now, in the interest of safety and liability, the kids hunt for little tags that earn them toys. Not one actual hatchet to be found.
Of course, this year being our first attempt at hunting surrogate hatchets, we weren't aware of the tricks of the trade. When the people running the hunt tell the kids not to run since the snow-covered ground is slippery, what they actually mean is run as fast as you can and shove the lesser, rule-abiding children out of the way.
When they say to start looking, they actually mean to dig in the feet of frozen snow around the hundreds of trees near which some cruel surrogate-hatchet-hider might have placed a tag. How deep? I don't know. Nobody was sharing that carefully guarded local secret. Big trees? Little trees? Distant trees? Near trees? Again, that was for the locals to know and us to find out.
My son kept looking questioningly at me and all I could do was shrug my shoulders.
15 degrees, heavy snow, a deep snow pack, and no discernible way that successful little boys and girls were locating these mythical hatchet surrogates. To be honest, I'm not actually convinced that the tags actually existed. I'm far more inclined to believe that the event was really a vast conspiracy to torture unwitting boys and their dads and simply perpetuate a town-wide hatchet hunt mythology. How about some hatchet geocaching? 21st Century Skills, anyone?
I'm probably just bitter because all my kid managed to find was a couple of sticks and I still can't feel two of my toes.
It does, however, make me wonder what happened to our real spirit of adventure and our ability to trust our children with sharp objects. Why is it that we have to sanitize so much of what we do with our kids in the interest of avoiding potential litigation? Maybe if my kids went to real hatchet hunts, they'd be the ones cutting kindling for our woodstove. With their hatchets.
Probably not. And the local hatchet hunt mythology has probably redacted all of the tales of lost fingers and maimed faces. But one does have to wonder if we trusted and empowered our students more in all aspects of their education, whether by letting them use cell phones in school, bringing down the walls between them and the open Internet, or just hunting for actual hatchets, what sorts of greatness might result?