IN THE MEADOW where our dog loves to run, you'll find slash piles of deadfall - broken limbs, twigs, branches - piled in neat mounds awaiting snow deep enough to make burning the debris safe. Gathering the wood may seem like work, and for the volunteers who do it, it is. But it's also child's play, reminding us of when we built forts from discarded lumber, or pretended to be beavers, piling sticks into wigwam like structures, scrambling on our knees into the drafty bellies of these precarious dens.

DOGS, especially, love to fetch and carry sticks, chasing them, propping them up between their paws to snip away at the shoots sprouting from the main branches, peeling the bark away, sharpening their teeth on the smooth, hard grain.

And now, the stick has officially been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, housed at the Strong National Museum of Play. Just when parents are struggling to afford high-tech gadgets, there's an inexpensive option - even free! According to Patricia Hogan, curator at the museum, in order to be inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, a toy must be "part of the lives of many kids, preferably over several generations." Thus quotes Allison Ross in her article posted on the Children and Nature Network site.

This morning, national newscasters reported dire predictions of hundreds of store closures during this Christmas season, an unprecedented occurrence during the busiest shopping season of the year. But perhaps this curtailing of consumerism isn't a bad thing. Less consumption of goods means less usage of the earth's resources, and hopefully MORE USE of the things we already have. Perhaps we'll see more families playing in the park, or walking in the woods. Perhaps more neighborhood kids will team up to build snowmen, gathering stray sticks for arms, snatching a carrot from the fridge for a nose, wrapping that tattered scarf around Mr. Snowman's thick white neck.

We used to have a family tradition on the ranch where in December we would hike around, looking for a straggly Ponderosa Pine that needed to be thinned. This tree would become our Christmas tree. After Christmas, we would pack away the decorations, wind up the strings of light, and take the tree out by the wood pile. The gangly limbs would be sawed off (the dog would invariably run off with one), and the trunk of the tree would be cut into logs. We would set aside these still-green logs and let them dry for an entire year. The following Christmas Eve, these were the logs with which we'd build our Christmas Eve fire. We would sit around the woodburning stove after dinner, reading a cowboy version of The Night Before Christmas, listening to the wood crackle and pop.

As I get older, I look forward to finding new ways to simplify life. Paring down possessions, spending time instead of money, rejoicing in friends instead of frills. Several years ago, I started taking along a Story Stick with me on my River Writing Journeys for Women. As we circle up in the evening to share our journaling, we pass the Story Stick around. I've taken that same stick with me to schools where children, too, have taken turns holding it as they tell their stories. Over the years, the wood has grown smooth and shiny.

Kudos to the Stick. To the trees that grow them. To the children who play with them. To the dogs who chase them. To the birds who build their nests with them. To the fires they light. To the lives they enlighten.

(Page is a Senior Associate with the Children and Nature Network.  To learn more about this grassroots nonprofit that sprung up as a result of Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, go to


Anonymous said…
I'm giving my boys sticks for Christmas. No, I'm not making good on the "Santa's only going to bring you a bundle of sticks and a lump of coal" threat; I'm giving opportunities to get outside and play with them . . . a promise to take them canoe camping and a promise to take them climbing.

I'd do these things anyway, but giving the outdoors for Christmas gives these outings extra luster.

And I can get away with buying less plastic crap.
Hi Clark. Sticks are bio-friendly, that's for sure. Enjoy the canoe camping with your sons, and thanks for leaving a comment.
R.J. Medak said…
Hi, Page.

I like the blog. After talking with you on the phone, I have begun culling bookmarks, created a blog and a web site.

Success with your 2009 goals, assuming you have some.
invisiblebees said…
Who knew the stick would make it into the hall of fame?! But, at the same tim,e you'd a thunk it's about time. We used sticks to whip apples at each other as kids; we'd spin one when we didn't have a bottle; we'd toss them into the lake and race each other or the dog out to get it.

"But perhaps this curtailing of consumerism isn't a bad thing. Less consumption of goods means less usage of the earth's resources, and hopefully MORE USE of the things we already have. Perhaps we'll see more families playing in the park, or walking in the woods." ...I couldn't agree more, Page!

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