“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

I am that thing that is much less rare than stereotypically assumed.

I am a New York country girl.

That enormous concentration of humanity known to us Upstaters simply as “The City” is the image of New York that overwhelming dominates the popular media.  It is hard for most people to wrap their head around the idea that most of the rest of New York is overwhelmingly comprised of villages and hamlets that are decidedly New England in character, and by large tracts of agricultural land.  That land is actively farmed or dormant, but in either case it is blissfully devoid of tract homes or condominums, and nary a yellow cab or street hot dog vendor to be found.

There was a family farm until my father’s generation, when it was sold due to the general lack of interest in his generation toward the often unrewarding labor of farming it.    The herd of resident dairy cows were sold off when I was a very small girl, and the land was converted to plant agriculture when the price of dairy made it unprofitable, and when my grandparents became old enough that the more seasonal demands of dirt farming were less onerous that the daily grind of dairy production.  The farm had ceased to be productive in any agricultural sense long before it was sold, and I spent the majority of my time in my older youth between the more recent suburban residences of my parents, but I felt a pang of sadness nevertheless when the farm passed out of the family.  My great-grandfather had paid for that land on shares.  Growing beans and wheat and dairy, he earned his farm through his labor.  And thus dispels another myth.  Yes, Virginia, there were Yankee sharecroppers.  It was not entirely a Southern phenomenon.

The great irony of my love life is that I, a New York farm girl, granddaughter of a sharecropper, married a Mississippi city boy.  Stereotypes busted all around.

But the cultural distance between us Upstate residents and the Gotham that dominates our outward face is profound.  There are children that grow up in the inner reaches of the City, that never see a tree that wasn’t planted, who see cows only as pictures on milk boxes, or as red slabs of beef wrapped in plastic and styrofoam.  The have an only rudimentary understanding of the connection between a chicken and an egg, and have never waded into a stream to catch tadpoles.  The East River isn’t conducive for a casual canoe ride or exploratory wading.  There are no safe backyards to play in, no barbeques (open fires are strictly prohibited in a huge portion of the five boroughs), no place to ride a bicycle out of the danger of traffic.

No open spaces.

No open air.

In short, there are none of the quiet summer pleasures that form the normality for children of the suburbs and the country.  It is something that even those denizens of smaller metropolises have a hard time comprehending.

Imagine having to board a bus for a thirty minute ride, just to find a place to spread a blanket on the grass and read in the sun.

I explain this, because without that context, it is difficult to explain what the Fresh Air Fund does.

It gives children of the concrete jungle a chance, often for the first time, to understand what it is to have the  space and the freedom to play in the open air.  To see nature that isn’t meticulously (or not so meticulously) maintained by a planning board.  To see a beach where you can actually play in the sand.  

To camp in a tent.

To experience a night without street noise.

To hear a bird sing.

To actually see stars in the night sky.

My father and stepmother hosted a Fresh Air child for several years while I was growing up.  It isn’t unusual to host the same child year after year – in fact, most get invited back by their host families.  This is why this is a cause that I understand, that I have experienced, and I can support.

If you live within the Fresh Air hosting area, consider hosting a Fresh Air child.  Give them that opportunity for two weeks of summer in the open air.

If you don’t, but you just have fond memories of country summers and camping trips – consider donating to Fresh Air to help send a child to one of their summer camps.  

Because every kid should get a chance to look up into the sky and see the Milky Way.   At least once.

April 21st, 2009 at 2:27 pm
2 Responses to “Fresh Air”
  1. 1

    Cool! You got a new keyboard. (I figured the old one was broken, since you weren’t posting anymore.)

    I had one of those Urban Kids in my camp at Pennsic a few years back. He’d never had a backyard. He was 13 before he saw a tree that was not in a sidewalk or Central Park. He’d never been to a barbequeue. At 28, he’d never handled an axe.

    It took noticeable effort to breach the cultural gap. And I’m not even a country boy. I’m just a child of the suburbs.


  2. 2

    […] a short while ago, I wrote a piece about the Fresh Air Fund.  They have found a group of donors that are willing to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount […]