The case for microadventures

Essay, The Charlotte News

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.58.40 PMWith the sporadic warm weather finally upon us, everyone in the house has begun to grow a bit antsy. We are ready to shed the heavy layers of winter clothing and play outside until the sun casts long shadows across the ground. We daydream about wringing as much adventure out of the following few precious months as we can.

In past years, we’ve talked a good game about all of the things we are going to do over the summer. Then life grabs hold—we don’t write any of our ideas down or schedule them on Erin’s weeks off. We become comfortable in the rhythm we happen to fall into, and excuses come easier than the little extra effort it takes to make an adventurous memory with the boys. Then the summer is gone, and we are left wishing we had done more. This year we are determined not to let this happen.

Alastair Humphreys has bicycled around the world, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, run 150 miles across the Sahara and much more. Most of us don’t have the time, the finances or the gumption to take on challenges like this. Which is why Alastair came up with the term microadventure. At its heart, a microadventure is simply a way to get people out of their routines, out of their comfort zones and into a wild place. It does not matter what you do, as long as you’re out there.
From a parent’s point of view, I classify a microadventure as anything that is out of the house, out of the yard (unless you’re having a family slumber party there) and outside for an hour or more. Adventure is more attitude than anything else. It will take a little extra effort and some planning on your part. You’ll have to slow down, disconnect and focus on wherever you are at the moment. Let the kids lead the way, but most importantly stoop down, look closer and see the world through their eyes. By doing these things, a simple walk along the edge of a field can reveal an amazing world you never knew existed.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.01.19 PMPack a simple dinner and head to your favorite trail for an evening hike. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and watch the sunset from the water’s edge or the top of a cliff. Anything you can think of can be a microadventure. If you want to turn it up a notch, then I would encourage a mid-week campout at a designated campground or at a suitable spot a short hike from your house or car. After all, the hours between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. are easy pickings for an adventure.

In next month’s column, I hope to share a longer list of microadventures for the upcoming summer, along with some other nuggets of information. I would love for you to share your ideas and suggestions with me by clicking here. The more ideas and information we have, the easier it will be to plan your next adventure.

Written for The Charlotte News Vol. 58 no. 19 – April 21, 2016

Caleb’s Story

Essay, The Charlotte News

Bully LogoIn the fall of 2014, Caleb, a bright blond-headed boy with inquisitive eyes and a great curiosity for learning, started kindergarten. He loved his teacher, made friends easily and was happy to go to school. Then Caleb began to come home with stories of how Joey was tormenting some of the kids on the playground. One time he told his mom, Rebecca, that Joey pushed Timmy so hard that he split his chin on the concrete, requiring Timmy to get stitches. The stories continued, as did the accusations that the recess attendants spent more time talking among themselves than they did watching the children.

Caleb has never been one to tolerate injustice, and he tried to protect the other kids when he saw them being bullied. This quickly made Caleb the target. The gang would chase after him and yell “Get him!” and Caleb would run and hide. His mom talked to him about not running and hiding and perhaps playing closer to the teachers, but Caleb did not like that idea. He and his friends liked to play by the swings where they had a lot of space to run.

One day while Caleb was climbing the ladder on the jungle gym, Joey started beating him on the head, then he tried to kick Caleb in the face. Rebecca sent a note to the teacher and called the guidance counselor, but only got her voicemail. The next day Caleb’s teacher sat down with Joey, Caleb and another boy to talk about what was going on. The boys refused to sit near Joey out of fear. In the end the teacher made Joey write an apology. The teacher told Rebecca that Joey was often in trouble for this kind of behavior.

The guidance counselor, who worked only a couple of days a week, called back a few days later. She was surprised that Joey was acting like this and said she had not heard of him doing such nasty things. The recess attendants, the counselor stated, said that Caleb had started a group of kids who reported bad behavior to one recess attendant in particular––the attendant claimed that Caleb had a wild imagination and was trying to fulfill a dream of being a superhero. The counselor mentioned that school was almost over but nonetheless she would file a report and talk to Joey’s parents. The rest of the year passed without incident, and Caleb reported that Joey was acting much better. Perhaps, Rebecca hoped, things had taken a turn.

The start of first grade brought the discovery that none of Caleb’s close friends from the previous year were in his class. Caleb’s new friend, Toby, began threatening that if Caleb did not give him his school store money he would not be Caleb’s friend. In another instance he said he would bash Caleb’s face in if he didn’t give him a drawing that Caleb had done. On top of that Caleb was again coming home with stories of Joey and his gang causing terror on the playground.

Once again Rebecca spoke to the teachers and the guidance counselors, and promises were made to keep a closer eye on things. His parents discussed their options and worried about what had happened to the sweet, curious boy they had sent off to kindergarten the year before. Caleb was now quick to lash out or react in anger, he cried more easily, clenched his fist and hit his dad. By Thanksgiving break even extended family members noticed a difference.

The final straw came when Caleb told his parents about how before the break he was hiding in the tires from a boy who was chasing kids around and hitting them with a stick. Eventually the boy found Caleb and hit him on the back a few times before Caleb was able to run away. He lifted his shirt and showed them the faint marks on his back. Rebecca and her husband felt like the school had brushed them off and let them down. Shortly after Thanksgiving they pulled Caleb out of the school.

Vermont Law states that all schools are required to have a bullying and harassment plan in place that is equal to, or more stringent than, the one developed by the state. There is even an advisory committee through the Agency of Education that helps with the setting up of these policies. We cannot just send our children off to school and think that we don’t need to engage them when they get home. We need to be asking questions, look for the subtle clues and listen to what our children have to say.

I fully believe that to some extent situations like this can make a child much stronger and more fully prepared for the toxicity of our current culture. However, we need to know when to step in and pull them back from the ledge before they become part of the problem or, worse yet, decide it is just not worth facing another day.

Written for the Charlotte News

The Red Broom


I’ve been driving for at least four hours when I pull the car into the gas station; the warm sun and the cloudless sky are all the reason I needed to put the top down as I left the city. At some point during the drive I turned the heater on all the way to keep the cool autumn air at bay. Now out of the warmth of the car, standing in the shade of the gas pump awning I shiver against the cool air. I squeeze the pump’s handle and listen as the whoosh of gas mixes with the passing cars.

I’m not supposed to be here alone. Pumping gas on the side of some narrow country road in a fancy suite. This morning I was pacing in a hotel room waiting for my groomsmen to arrive. My future wife two floors above getting ready. Or so I thought. The clack of the automatic shut off startles me. Replacing the nozzle I ignore the beeping from the pump and get back into the car, reaching out to touch the red broom on the passenger’s seat before turning the key.

My hair dances wildly as the car picks up speed, the reds, yellows and oranges of the trees begin to blur in my periphery and it reminds me of multiple colors of sidewalk chalk running together during a rain storm. An hour later I turn onto a narrow dirt road that climbs steeply into a colorful forest. I begin to question why I am here. I would have preferred a beach. Fall in New England was her favorite time and she intended to start our honeymoon here at a four-diamond inn and spa on the top of a mountain. I had driven here only because it was already paid for. There was no sense wasting this money too. Around a hairpin turn a kaleidoscope of colors falls away to the valley below, the road turns sharply again and the broom gives in to gravity and falls against my leg.

The broom. She’d found a red one at an upscale grocery store in the village and given it to me shortly after we’d met. Telling me I needed to add some practical color to my life. As I raced to get out of the city and away from the humiliation of being stood up I’d grabbed the broom as I’d hastily thrown clothes into a bag. At the moment it gave me a sense of comfort. It was unchanging and sturdy, unlike my current state.

I pull into the inn’s gravel parking lot, taking my place at the end of a long line of cars. I sit for a moment, gripping the steering wheel trying to gather my composure. The view is amazing. The expansive lawn casually slopes down to a large lake that has a handful of rowboats pulled up on its shore and a large wooden raft floating in the middle. Just beyond the lake the land rises up again to meet the mountains that nearly surround the property. With a deep sigh, I grab the broom and climb out of the car.

A short plump woman with graying black hair watches as I open the door to the inn and a small bell chimes.

“Here comes the happy couple!” she says before noticing my eyes are red and puffy, my three-piece suit rumpled, my tie hanging loosely around my neck and bunched up at the top of my vest. It must look like a plaid waterfall.

“Hello. I’m Mr. Slope, checking in.”

“Oh yes of course. We have you in the hon…um.. we have you in our best room, sir.”

All I want to do is get to the room. The clerk’s eyes keep dancing from my eyes to the broom and back again and I can only imagine what she is thinking.

“Yes, well, here is your key. The honey.. the suite is on the third floor. Take a right at the top of the stairs and it is at the end of the hall. Dinner is served at six and breakfast is served from seven to nine. Is there anything else you will be needing?”

“No. I’m all set, thank you.”

Walking across the lobby I glimpse myself in a mirror, and realize how haggard and disheveled I look. She probably thinks that I’m some kind of city junkie. My legs feel like lead as I climb the dark oak staircase. The hallway carpet has a wildly ornate pattern and so much padding that I cannot hear the sound of my own footsteps. Unlocking the door I step into a large suite with a modern theme. There is a rounded alcove overlooking the lawn, the lake and the mountains beyond. Next to the window is a small table with a bottle of wine and a silver tray that is heaped with chocolate covered strawberries. Her favorite. I put my bag and the broom on the bed. Walk to the alcove and take in the view. I wonder where she is?   Picking one of the strawberries off the tray I bite into it and begin to pace, sifting through the details of our entire relationship. Trying to find an answer. The more I search for an answer the hotter I get. Pausing briefly I remove my suit jacket and lay it on the bed. The changing light reminds me that it is nearly dinnertime. The thought of sitting in the dining room alone is horrifying. I sit heavily on the edge of the bed and put my head in my hands. I don’t want to be here. Not in this room, this state, this country. I grab the broom off of the bed and stand up snapping it over my knee and letting the two halves clatter to the floor. I grab my suit coat and hear our wedding bands clink together in one of the pockets. I pull them out and study them in the bright yellow light of the setting sun. Tossing them onto the silver tray among the heap of strawberry stems and picking up my bag, I walk out of the room, leaving the broom, the rings, and the life I had hoped to have locked inside.

Joys of Summer


This poem was written for a poetry class I took in the the fall of 1997 while attending college in Florida.  It seemed like a  fitting post as the summer draws to an end.

Parking along the narrow road
quickly piling out with towels in hand
before the next stream of road warriors speed by

Sauntering down the cool tunnel of green
talking loudly of the joys of summer
a sharp left down a narrow path
glimpse the lake through the foliage

Breaking through upon a rust-orange lake
wrapped in a blue-sky blanket
a steep bank of red sand leads to paradise
the road racer’s engines break through the wall of green
dropping towels next to the massive old birch
that holds the key to our high for the day

Grabbing the rope
climbing the pine tree to the top platform
looking out over the orange water

Gripping the rope
frail as it hangs from the mighty birches out-stretched branch
pulling the rope tight
a deep breath
a small prayer the rope does not break


Whoops and yells from companions
chase you as you fly over the water
arms stiff
knuckles while
heart pumping fast as the rope reaches it climax
looking down 30 feet to orange water

Letting go

Plunging into the cool water


Shooting back to the surface
screaming with joy