Durable Human (2 book series)

Poem Describes a Durable Human

Kids-playing-in-creek-at-Erie-Art-Museum-Blues-and-Jazz-Festival-2012As some readers of this blog may know, I am also writing a book called The Durable Human. It’s not easy to explain what it means to be “durable.” So I was thunderstruck when I heard Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac read this love poem by Sharon Dunn:


My eleven year old son wants to fish,
he owns two rods, one saltwater,
one freshwater. He loves knives,
Bowie knives, Swiss Army
knives, “Knives like this one?”
my brother says, opening his desk
drawer and taking out a small
jackknife with antler handle.
My boy camps outdoors, begs to sleep
outside, is always shooting
arrows, rubber band guns,
he is lashing together a fort
in the backyard. He sails,
swims, kayaks and wants
to know the stars.
The outdoor hunting genes
are in the dark men in my family.
Yet I believe he is a son of light.
His joy in reading, cooking
and piano are fanned
from the tinderbox
of his father’s heart.
He will save rainforest,
he will grow vegetables,
keep horses, fly his own plane.
He will make his own brave life,
he will not remake our lives
nor redeem us, nor pity us.

[From Refugees in the Garden: A Memoir in Poems. © The Rose Press, 2009]

I may not need to write a book now that Dunn has nailed “durable” in one poem. Or, should I say, her son has.

The poet paints a vivid picture of his rich childhood. She and his father are allowing him the time to taste and feel and explore his world. Curious and bright like any child, he has the freedom to discover what he likes to do and what he does well. Besides knowing the stars, he is coming to know himself and honing what gives us all an edge as human beings: our wonderful, irreproducible senses (including our humor and intuition!), our curiosity and our conscience.

We can be fairly sure when he grows up this boy will have mined his personal resources, stockpiled his skills and is ready to “make his own brave life.”

And isn’t that what all parents want? For our children to be able to cook and fish and know how to be self-reliant; to be creative, courageous contributors as opposed to vapid consumers?

But we’re talking about a poem here. Is this boy a figment? Can kids still learn to be durable? How can we teach them when we’re having trouble being durable ourselves?

(Author’s addendum: The boy in the poem got in touch! See what he said by clicking on the comments to the left of the post.)

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wonderful very appropriate comments thanks for sharing

Aaron Clayton-Dunn

I’m not a figment! And, indeed, I have wonderful parents. I turned 22 on Wednesday, I’m a senior at Brown University, a classical pianist, an entrepreneur starting a company, an Ultimate Frisbee player. And I do grow vegetables.

Beautiful poem Mom.

Jeff Smith

Great post, JJ. To me the poem is less about the child’s actions, and more reflective of the parent’s recognition of the value of her child’s explorations in the uncarpeted and unpaved wild. I grew up on a large farm with lots of free time, messing around in forests, fields and swamps. My kids live more structured suburban lives. As a parent, it’s easy to succumb to the gravitational pull of “actiivites”. Over-supervision and over-programming can be an enemy, as can electronics, media, or regimented “play-dates” where your parents pick your friends. Parental obsession over academics, sports or music doesn’t help either. Even the best slate of programs can’t rise to the value of a couple of unplanned hours catching frogs down by the creek with a neighborhood buddy or two. The child in the poem is eleven. By that age, a child should have less scaffolding in his life, and be able to spend time in the natural world, sometimes with adults, sometimes not. Competence and confidence in the wild translates directly to life’s other challenges.


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