Exploring and Dreaming
I grew up in a small town in Montana. Hardin, to be precise! It is located on the edge of the Crow Indian reservation in south central Montana. There were more cows than people, by a large margin. One of my best friends, a girl named Billie, lived in an old soddy with her ranching family. It wasn’t until high school that they built a cabin that had running water and a phone. Now the home I lived in was not like that at all, but this might help you to understand the rough and rugged people that I was surrounded with. Montana was not for wimps. And exploring and dreaming was the order of the day!
And boy, did I love to explore! Many of you have already heard about my first discovery of a dinosaur bone while walking home from school for lunch. It was right there in the alley behind my house, stuck half in, half out. I didn’t have to do too much exploring to find it. But once I did find it, I was ready to look for more. Montana is like ground zero for finding fossils of dinosaurs. So I knew I was going to have fun!
Exploring and Dreaming at the Library
Back then, there weren’t too many books about dinosaurs for kids. (And we didn’t have dinosaur sheets and pajamas for kids.) But my mom was the head librarian for the county, so I spent lots of time at the library, looking for books that might tell me about these creatures. And read I did.
Exploring in my Own Backyard
On weekends, when the deep snows were gone, and I could get out, then it was time to go exploring. Often times, my dad would drive me out of town a few miles, and drop me off, with a promise to pick me up later. And times when he couldn’t take me, I would hop on my bike, and in a matter of minutes, I could be out of town. Oh yes, those were different times! I would head down to the Big Horn River (did I mention that my hometown was quite close to the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn?) and start in excavating the banks of the river. Yes, there were snakes, and all kinds of bugs and critters. But that did not stop my exploring. Over the years, I came away with an amazing assortment of dino bones, ammonites, and other wonderful fossils.
I remember a time when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old. The Montana Historical Society of Hardin decided to make a trip to do some digging for fossils. The society was made up of what I called the little old ladies. We went out to the Campbell Wheat Corporation to do our digging. Evidently some folks from the Smithsonian had been there digging, and the little old ladies of the historical society made arrangements to do the same. They knew my dad, so they knew I would be interested. So off we went, for a long day of digging under the summer sun. This time, I was in for quite a surprise: not only did we find dinosaur bones, but we also found lots of gastroliths, or what we fondly call gizzard stones. Now this was a great find!
Exploring Historical Sites
Some of my other explorations took me to the old Fort Custer, a place that was built (and subsequently abandoned) after the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Over the years, it became farmland. But my parents knew the people who farmed there, and they gave permission to go hunting on their property for artifacts.I found old pottery, buttons, belt buckles, spent cartridges, and so much more. Can you just imagine the stories being spun in my mind about the adventures of the Seventh Cavalry, General Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Sioux Indians? After finding these artifacts, I would select out ones of particular interest and would sell them. You see, my dad had an insurance business, and his office was on a prominent corner of the main street in town.
And it had glass windows! So I would display my finds there for tourists to see and, hopefully, buy.
Yes, things were different back then. But in some ways, some things never change.
Exploring and Dreaming with Kids Today
Part of the challenge as adults is to remember those times when we were younger, and help our kids to explore and dream. There are so many ways to do that. I remember a field trip that I conducted with a bunch of young kids, looking for fossil clams and geodes in Indiana. And seeing three snakes sunning in the road. Some of the kids were more interested in the fossils, but some were also interested in those snakes! Especially when they met their demise after an encounter with a passing car. Instant biology lesson.
Another trip to a local island to look for rock types included a side romp with some boys who wanted to make a raft out of driftwood, seaweed, and kelp – and succeeded! Much to their parent’s horror, as they launched one of their smaller friends out into Puget Sound…Oh but did they have fun with the exploring and dreaming! Engineering class.
Or a graduation trip that I took with my youngest, by train, from Seattle to Wolf Point, Montana. We found a rancher that would let us come on her land to hunt dinosaur fossils. And she laughed at my seemingly clueless daughter’s pink tennis shoes. We had a car, and the luxury of air conditioning. But the exploring bug was still strong in this young one. Lessons in being a dad to a frilly daughter..
A big exploration that we do almost every summer is visiting Yellowstone National Park with families. Sometimes I feel a bit like the Pied Piper as the kids follow me around asking questions about what they are seeing. There is so much that they want to know about!
Let Them Explore!
The inquisitive nature of our kids is just like that of kids in years gone by. Their desire to explore and dream is no different than ours was. It may have a different outworking, but they still desire to discover new things, and to uncover mysteries.
The challenge is to help them to do this. Or maybe, to let them do this. Every home is going to be different in how this can happen and how we can encourage it. But it is something that we need to be diligent to pursue. Our God has given our children a different world to live in than ours, and it will require new ideas and new solutions for different problems. Let’s let them explore!
Want to explore some more with your kids? Check out our State Rockhounding Kits or our National Parks, Monuments, and Historic Trails. Kits.