Heard Around the West: Free-range parenting and social media outrage
May 17, 2018
Social media has once again outed a vandal who couldn't resist bragging about his allegedly "romantic" act. To immortalize his love for his wife, Jennifer, while visiting Corona Arch, which is about five miles away from Utah's Arches National Park, Ryan Andersen of Idaho Falls used a sandstone shard to carve into the buttress of the arch, drawing a big heart with his and his wife's initials and the date carefully etched above. Then the couple and their three young children posed and posted the photo online, with everyone smiling proudly. Outrage ensued, the Bureau of Land Management was notified, and Andersen posted what sounded like a heartfelt apology: "At that moment, I foolishly thought I was conveying my love for my wife, when, in fact, I was tarnishing the experience of others. … My actions were wrong. I am extremely sorry for my conduct." Andersen offered to pay the BLM for repairing the damage his valentine caused; he also said that from now on, he would "help to protect our public lands."
Hats off to the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert for passing a "free-range parenting" bill, the first of its kind in the nation — and no, we're not talking about cows and calves and that kind of free-range activity. "That we need legislation for what was once considered common-sense parenting a generation ago — and is considered normal in every other country in the world — is what surprises me," said Danielle Metiv of Silver Springs, Maryland, who was charged with child neglect for letting her two children, 6 and 10, walk home from a park alone. Lenore Skenazy, lambasted on social media as "America's worst mom," began calling for a new law redefining child abuse four years ago. She was vilified after she revealed in a New York Daily News column that she allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway all by himself. Many readers denounced her permissiveness as unthinkable and possibly dangerous. Skenazy would have none of it, saying, "No one should have to second-guess their decision if they feel their kids are safe."
When John Mattingly, one of our favorite columnists in the monthly Colorado Central magazine, becomes enthralled with a farm animal, he falls hard. First it was goats, he says, "starting with the odd goat and ending one morning looking out the window at nearly 500 goats." These days it's ducks, beginning with a modest six males and four females, though judging by the birds' amazing reproductive facility, he is sure that "by 2020 there will be well over a thousand." Mattingly waxes rhapsodic about living with ducks for both practical — "with ducks around there are very few mosquitos" — and fun reasons, as he finds the birds' behavior entertaining. He likes to watch them preening and oiling their feathers, and observes that even though duck bills are not especially dangerous, "a duck attack is so startling as to be disarming; they hiss like a snake and fly right at you." He enjoys spending the occasional afternoon watching "as they interrogate the bottom of the pond for grubs and bugs, ducking down with feet and tail wagging furiously above the surface." And though he has tried to make a pet out of a duck, it really never worked, he admits, "mostly because a duck out of water is really a duck out of water." He also notes, "If you don't see a duck in the room, you are probably the duck."
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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