Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Outdoors a tough sell in La. summers

On a wooden wall peg near our back door, my 13-year-old son has hung up his slingshot — a small nod toward his parents, I suppose, after we told him, in the course of cleaning his room, to find a place for everything, with everything in its place.

He probably found the slingshot under his bed, which is where things migrate when boys no longer use them.

The slingshot had its heyday two or three summers ago — part of a long, hot season in which my son passed the afternoons by plinking at tin cans with his air gun, and then, in some other phase of marksmanship, turned to the slingshot as his weapon of choice.

He’s gone on to other preoccupations now, and has, in fact, been gone most of the summer at boarding camp.

Afternoons at our house have been quieter these days, but the slingshot still hangs near the door, like a frontier rifle perched against the threat of a passing bear.

The slingshot has become for me a talisman bearing the promise of summer outdoors, where somewhere, I hope, a youngster is still plinking at tin cans, or looking for bugs under leaves, or reading the clouds in the sky.

If we want kids to spend more time outdoors, we grown-ups will have to lead the way.

This July, parks officials across the country urged American to spend more time outside in observance of Park and Recreation Month. They’ve faced an uphill battle. A recent nationwide survey revealed that nearly three in 10 American adults don’t spend time outside on a daily basis. Of those who do go outside daily, almost half spend less than 30 minutes outdoors.

The outdoors are a tough sell during Louisiana summers. Heat, humidity and mosquitoes drive us inside. But this month, amid all the bad tidings about desperate children at our borders, war abroad, and bickering at home, something remarkable happened. A cold front dipped into the South, giving us morning and evening temperatures more like spring or fall. For a few glorious days, we had every reason to go outside, and see what there was to see.

The extra time outdoors yielded a few discoveries at our house. My wife reported seeing a skink skitter across the porch — the largest one in memory, about “as big as a hot dog,” as she mentioned over dinner. Last weekend, while approaching the front door after fetching the mail, I startled a ribbon snake from its berth behind our watering can. It instantly vanished into the flower bed, in the way that snakes do, so that I was left wondering if I saw what I saw.

What other secrets rest beyond my living room window, I can’t say.

But there’s no law against a middle-aged man taking a discarded slingshot in hand, and going outside to plink a few cans of his own, perhaps spotting the odd skink or snake or dragonfly along the way.

Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.