When I was in grade school, from the time I stepped off the bus in the afternoon ’til sunset, my neighborhood was my entire world, and the possibilities were limitless.
I was part of a BMX kid gang of sorts. We rolled our jeans up and folded our converse down. We built forts, played Nerf football, and shot bb guns. When that got old we’d explore the outer limits of our territory. These boundaries were defined by geography (the muddy bayou we didn’t dare cross for fear of alligators), by rules (the busy streets parents wouldn’t let us cross), and by ourselves (how far we could pedal and still make it home before dark). The more we explored, the smaller our domain felt. Though we’d never actually seen the wondrous places across the bayou or beyond those roads, we were convinced they were out there.
We spent a lot of time at a small park which was, incidentally, the farthest point we could travel within the neighborhood—but it sucked. It had a kiddie slide, a kiddie swing, and a tennis court. What the hell was a 10 year old supposed to do with a tennis court? We didn’t know, so we loitered, enjoying how tough we felt being so far from home. One evening as dusk approached, we were throwing rocks near the outer edge of the park when we found a trail. It didn’t look bike-friendly, so we all looked at each other, waiting for someone to voice our collective curiosity: “Let’s see where this goes.” We were all afraid of pressing on, and everyone had his own excuse for why we shouldn’t go, but the fear of being grounded or getting lost in the dark woods overnight couldn’t compete with the weight of a double-dare. So we set out.
I remember praying as we approached every turn for some kind of significant marker or relevant finding so that we could call our expedition a success and turn back with our honor intact. But we just saw woods. We drudged through muddy low spots that we all were sure was quicksand. We contorted our way through stickers, briar, and brush. We found ourselves covered in mud and scrapes and certain we were already in deep trouble when what we saw across an approaching bridge made it all worth while—a new park. This one had everything: a huge paved trail (for bike races, of course) that wrapped around a baseball diamond, big kid swings, and a creek. We could even see a fireworks stand off in the distance. Every afternoon, from the time the school bell rang until dusk, we ventured back to the park. Hide & seek games became epic battles across acres of forest with forts, tree-swings and booby trap pits. We were Goonies, conquistadors, astronauts; we had forever changed our world.
So many great childhood memories are the result of our decision to follow that one trail. It redefined everything for us and expanded our territory exponentially. These days, I’m happiest when I feel part of a team with the same adventurous spirit as that kid gang. The web is, after all, as limited as my old neighborhood with boundaries set by our current tools and technologies, as well as our understanding of each. I believe my work counts most when I’m looking for new trails and feel brave enough to blaze them. I know that the minute I dismiss new discoveries or ideas because the way forward isn’t clear is when I’ve lost my sense of wonder for web design. I hope like hell that never happens.