On the markings we get from playing outside

7 Feb 2017

Oracabessa, St Mary, Jamaica

To my son,

On the markings we get from playing outside,

An imprint of tree bark embedded into your chest.  A bleeding toe nail ripped to the flesh.  Little bumps and scratches scattered up and down your legs.  Faded brown spots.  Black fingernails.  These are the impressions that eventually fade, but I pray the permanent impression is one you can replay.

What is a tree if it cannot be climbed or sat under for shade or for shelter from the rain, or picked of its fruit or looked upon for birds and squirrels and caterpillars?  What is the earth if it cannot be walked upon bare, or dug up with shovels, or planted with seeds?  What is the sky if it cannot be gazed upon in wonder, in fear, or in curiosity?

All of these things create impressions that will last a lifetime.  These are the markings that never fade away.

But I admit that even in this place, that seems like the perfect place to scavenge, and run, and scurry up trees, I still say no too often.

When we first arrived in Jamaica, you imagined a world where you would dive into the ocean and swim with sharks.  You pictured a jungle of trees waiting to be climbed and so far every answer has been no.

I say to you:

“Hold my hand when we walk along the street.

“Put your shoes back on.  You can’t walk with bare feet.”

“Do not stick your finger in that hole.”

“Stay next to me when you play in the sea.”

“Be careful when you lift big rocks.”

“Don’t pull banana leaves off that tree.”

“No, you cannot play with corroded, metal bars.”

“Don’t pick that fruit.  It isn’t ripe.”

“Don’t toss up dirt, you will get it in your eye.”

But most times, I just want to let you be free.  I want to let you wander, and have you come back to me.  I want you to tell me about all the things you have seen.  I want you to follow a trail and see where it leads.  I want you to sit on the tallest tree branch.  Feel the wind on your face.  I want you to spread yourself on soil.  Feel the beat of the earth.

Tell me all the things you know, and the all things you want to be.  Tell me what hurts.  Tell me what bleeds.


Yesterday in the fruit market, after bursting coconuts open, and letting the juice drip from our chins, after smelling pineapples, and squeezing mangos, you busted your knee, leaping from the curb like you were jumping over a pit.

The day before that, you were under an apple tree, pinching worms with your fingers and scooping snails from the dirt.  A trail of fire ants made their way to your thighs, and sent you howling into the house.

In the backyard, while chasing butterflies, or running after lizards, or searching for conch shells under trees and mollusks in the garden, you trip and skid on the rocky surfaces that used to be ocean floor.

In the night, under our sheets, we scratch our mosquito bites, and make our skin white, and conjure black scabs on our ankles and calves, and rub coconut and peppermint oil between our palms, and pat baking soda and weed ash on our skin, to ease the tribulations of our day.

Ten minutes after falling out the tree, you are climbing again.  Five seconds after piercing your toe, you are walking barefoot again.

You learn that despite the temporary pain you may endure, the joy you feel in hearing the whip of a branch and the peace you feel from the earth under your feet are worth all the blood and tears.


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