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Growing Up Free: Inspiring a Love of Nature

Growing Up Free: Inspiring a Love of Nature
By today’s standards, some aspects of my upbringing would be considered parental negligence.

Those were the best parts of my childhood.

I grew up less than a half-mile from the border between southern New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The border was calmer then, but our neighborhood wasn’t quiet. Smugglers and undocumented immigrants streamed back and forth across the ragged barbed-wire fence that marked the boundary. From our yard we could watch hundreds of illegal crossings in a day. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials staked out the hilltops and patrolled the sky in their aircraft, but they couldn’t hold back the tide. Crime rates were high, primarily because the wealth differential across the border made mundane U.S. possessions immensely valuable if they could be smuggled south.

Then we had the neighbors to consider. As kids, we were routinely told to avoid the trailer where “the pervert” lived. So we did. If I wanted to walk past the shack inhabited by another neighbor, an elderly, trigger-happy alcoholic known as “Old Man Pat,” my grandfather would call Pat on the phone. I vividly remember one such conversation. “Pat, are you drunk?” Grandpa asked. He listened to Pat’s response. “Well, OK. My grandson is going to walk past your house in a few minutes. Don’t shoot at him.”

Did I mention that the area was also infested with rattlesnakes?

That I was encouraged to wander the village and the surrounding sand hills with my friends…
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