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.

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31 Responses

Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @TrentWalton

  • Davin

    Trent, this is fantastic and that final statement rings so true far beyond web design for me: “the minute I dismiss new discoveries or ideas because the way forward isn’t clear is when I’ve lost my sense of wonder” Powerfully true.

  • Joel

    Such beautiful writing that blends seamlessly into a beautiful design. Very inspiring stuff, thanks for sharing.

  • Gerren Lamson

    Trent, this is a beautiful, thoughtful post. The community needs more dialogue about the curious, fearless attitude that we all struggle to retain from our youth and apply to our professions.

    Anyone looking for additional reading similar to this topic would probably also love one of my favorite books, “Last Child In The Woods” by Richard Louv (http://amzn.to/zy7RUp).

    Keep up the good work, friend!

  • jonathan bowden

    Great post trent. I grew up in the middle of nowhere as well, and also had the woods as my playground every afternoon and weekend. our sense of wonder is a precious thing, whether for pixels or pine trees. thanks for the reminder!

  • Andrew Lohman

    Great article Trent. It brings back wonderful nostalgic memories. Also a great reminder to keep wondering.

    Think I’ll go watch “Stand by me” now. Thanks.

  • Francisc

    The layout and “logo” for this post are exceptional.

  • Adam Clark

    Great article Trent. My childhood was exactly the same way. I know your point, in the end, was about the web, but your words made me think again about how I fear that my kids won’t have that. When I walk around my neighborhood in 2012, no one is outside playing with nerf balls and bb guns; all the kids are inside on their xboxes and iPads.

  • Brad Fults

    Great post. I appreciate the link with your professional life, but I think there’s a more obvious corollary for parents: let your kids roam in the woods.

  • Christopher Murphy

    Reading this reminded me of your wonderful talk at New Adventures in January. As an educator, this kind of post is hugely inspiring to read and it’s perfect to point students towards, helping them to understand that who you are as a person - your inquisitiveness, your enthusiasm to learn, your desire to tread new ground - is critical to your future success.

    Start with the person, start with a sense of wonder, start with a hunger to discover and the rest will follow.

  • Gonzo the Great

    Hi Trent,

    just wanted to thank you for this great metaphore, always explore new inspiring trails .. and don’t cut the corners ;-P

    Cheers & Ciao ..

  • Justin Kropp

    Thanks for writing this Trent. Reminds me of images from my own childhood and how we should strive to find those feelings of fear, wonder, and accomplishment in each and every project we undertake—no matter how small.

  • seth

    I didn’t realize we lived in the same neighborhood. :) You just described my childhood. Right on!!! Growing up in the 80’s ruled.

  • Roadhawg

    Trent,
    Write on, brother! Great analogy with a sobering and accurate conclusion. Purty is as purty does.

  • Zach

    Amen.

  • Nicolas Boillot

    I recently wrote a blog post in which I referenced the idea of beginner’s mind. Imagine if we can put ourselves in those children’s shoes, just as they’re discovering the new path, each time our clients or colleagues speak, each time we look at campaign or project... how much better would even the mundane work become? How many playgrounds would we discover. Beautifully written, thank you.

  • Joel A Glovier

    Now that’s some inspiration.

    What a great perspective, Trent. Oh that we might maintain our childhood lust for adventure, even as we mature daily.

  • Dave

    Excellent post. Not only were you able to conjure up old memories of my friends and I trudging through the forest by our house, you also reinforced my feelings on web design and development. Thanks Trent.

  • Brent Dickens

    Nice. Just how childhood was and just how life (and web design) should be, full of new adventures.

  • Catherine Zimmermann

    Thank you for sharing this moving memory. And your page design is also beautiful!

  • Julian

    Good general wisdom is best delivered with a wonderful story. Beautiful writing Trent! Thanks for sharing the lovely memory!

  • Daniel Lestarjette

    Trent—I saw your recent post on Trophy Barber Shop in Baytown, where I grew up, too. I live in Chicago now, but this kind of sounds like the park in the Pinehurst subdivision where we lived, or maybe that little park over there by King’s Bend. Either way, it’s always weird to come across a fellow former Baytown kid on the Internet. :D

  • Trent

    @Nicolas Boillot: I tracked down that post you mentioned. Good stuff...

    “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

    @Daniel Lestarjette: Whoa, you nailed it. It was the park across from King’s Bend and Whispering Pines. Good ol’ Baytown ;)

  • Paul

    This brings back memories. I grew up near a farm and the open fields were endless.

  • Ced Funches

    Being from Minnesota, we we’re always outside. Camping, fishing, hunting and seasonal sports. I remember walking from school to a friends house and crossing old train-yards and interesting warehouses. Imagination treasures. Good post.

  • dj

    @Trent... I ran across your site from a mention in Chris’s blog today and have just spent the last half-hour happily “Next“ing through your site. With that, albeit a bit unique, experience I do have one suggestion if you don’t mind. On your next layout, you might want to think about where users are when they actually make the decision to use the “next/prev” links - believe me, I was never at the top of the page where they are currently placed. A second comment might be that you don’t post often enough to suit me. For me, it was sort of like deciding to see where a trail went through the forest and finding it ended at the top of a waterfall. Not ready to turn back.

  • Chad G.

    That was a wonderful tale. I often think of the paths that I took as a kid as a kind of inspiration for new things. Glad to see someone who can share that feeling so well verbally.

  • L. M.

    Trent,
    A thoroughly enjoyable piece, and certainly a pleasant complement to your “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” article, which I’ve also read today as part of my catching-up binge. At the risk of seeming crass, I chose to comment on this article in particular because I wanted to ask how you achieved the simulated perspective effect here, where the different rate of scrolling between the background and text creates the illusion of depth. I’m only a novice in web-design, and I’ve not encountered this technique previously.

    Thanks in advance, and I look forward to your next article.

  • Trent

    @dj: Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind next time I go in for a round of design tweaks. Maybe that’s cause for some left & right margin arrows.

    @L. M.: Here’s a link to the parallax javascript I used on this post as well as Naz Hamid’s contribution to Lost World’s Fairs.

  • Tom

    Hi, this is excellent. I discovered it by chance but think it is well written, evocatively put and resonates with something deep inside, which we should all bring out more. Thanks. T

  • james

    This would make a great t-shirt.

    very inspiring. i read this when i get dull, it picks me up and feeds my imagination again.

    thank you

  • kevin

    loved this article.

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