top of page
  • Writer's picturestephanieraffelock

Barefoot Wild

Tangle and wild is what birthed me. The first few years of my life were in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where my father was the Park Naturalist. An early photograph shows me standing in a back yard of desert, cactus and sky. I am wearing a sombrero and a diaper, sucking on a bottle. It would be a familiar pose later in life too, sans the diaper. Blond hair, tanned skin, and life was good. My family swam at the river, sat in the caves and walked the surrounding area in search of prickly pear, which is a cactus blossom that my mother made into jelly.

At four my parents divorced and my father relocated to Glacier National Park, which presented a whole different pallet of nature than Carlsbad’s desert. In that park, I climbed up the steep hill next to the cabin and ran to the bottom, arms out stretched as if in flight. I gathered huckleberries for pies that my sister made and stood at the kitchen window watching a bear cub take our rug off the clothes line and carry it up a tree.

My parent’s divorce created an interesting phenomenon in my life: what with everyone’s angst and new beginnings, I became basically, unsupervised. A psychologist might call it abandonment, but it’s not like I was neglected. I was just left alone to the wild of life. As such, I delighted in a summer rain one day, warm and pounding, unleashed from the skies with a great, gray power and beauty. I got this idea that I should be outside in that rain instead of watching it from a window.

Out the back door I went, got on my tricycle, not bothering with shoes, and began riding the streets of Glacier, peddling hard through the puddles and delighting in the warm water soaking my clothes, hair and skin. I was having great fun when a woman, who also happened to be the local sitting judge, saw me, stopped her car and demanded that I get in. She put my tricycle in the trunk and drove me to her house where I was toweled off and given an over-sized shirt to wear, while my clothes were in the dryer. Then she called my father.

The judge was everything un-wild and had no appreciation for the freedom that I found so delicious. I was told to sit in the living room and she turned on the television for me. The show that was on was the Oral Roberts Healing Hour. Oral Roberts was a grainy black and white image that barked about things I didn’t know of. He talked about sickness and injury and told you to put your hand on the television screen and then he would yell, “Heal God, heal,” as though he were talking to a class of canines instead of people. I tried to think if I had a sickness or injury so that I could put my hand on the television screen, but no one would know whether I did or not and I really wanted to feel what would come through the television if I put my hand on it, so I did. And as Oral Roberts was yelling, “Heal God, heal,” with my little hand on the screen, my father walked into the room.

He had on his National Park issue uniform with a plastic thing over his hat that kept it dry. As he looked down at me he seemed to grow taller. Water dripped off his hat and he said, “Am I raising a moron?” I wanted to tell him no, but nothing came out of my mouth. He gathered me up, leaving my tricycle for another day in the hands of the un-wild judge, and we went home. I don’t remember that I was punished. I was probably off into the woods soon after, looking for berries, barefoot and wild.

I was eight or nine when my father was transferred to Washington DC and began working at the Department of the Interior as a program analyst. As in previous summers, I was packed up and shipped off to spend some time with him. And just as before, I was totally unsupervised. I found my way around to swimming pools, bus lines and walking long stretches of highway. I was fearless, and thinking back–my parents were foolish. Still I wouldn’t have traded those wild days for something more structured. Skipping stones on the Potomac River and walking to the airport were among my favorite activities. I could follow the highway all the way to what was then D.C. Airport and spend the entire day watching the planes take off and land. I had wonderful conversations with the stewardesses who were enviably stylish and were nice to me, sometimes buying me a coke and telling me all about the places that they had been. I wanted to go places too and I went home and told my father that I wanted to be a stewardess when I grew up.

First of all I got busted for walking barefoot, of course, to the airport and was told I couldn’t ever do that again. Then I was told that stewardesses were only glorified waitresses in the air, and that was the end of the conversation. I spent the rest of the summer cutting white paper and building a city out of the pieces in a corner of the living room. I was bored from waiting for weekends when I could go to the river with my father to skip rocks. Being unsupervised and being told to stay put was torture.

That was the last summer of my wild. . .for a while anyway.  As I got a little older, I became interested in being like other girls and matching shoes and belts became more important than exploring new places. Though by the time I was 17, I was ready to leave home and explore again. Seventeen is way to young to leave home, but having learned self-reliance at such an early age, it wasn’t that big a deal. I got into a lot of trouble when I left home and just like riding a tricycle in the rain, some of it was great fun.

Now in my sixties, the time of silver reflects upon the path that I followed, illuminating those wild times. It’s not so much a past as it is a state of mind. And I no longer confuse recklessness with wild. It is more an authenticity that speaks truth without worrying about what others may think. It is the rawness of heart that drinks in the world.  Wild is crying when the full moon rises and the geese fly overhead. I was born into the wild and I know it will carry me home. Something about the journey and the embracing of knotted, wild places, tangled in weeded flowers and planes taking off comforts me to my core.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page