A Kid for the Wild

I sat criss-cross-applesauce on the hard, tile cafeteria floor of my elementary school and stared, mesmerized by the lanky, bearded man with kind eyes on stage. Walkin’ Jim Stoltz’s voice rang out strong and clear as he sang in his gravelly voice, “Come walk with me.” A chorus of children’s voices melded together to copy the chorus, line by line after Walkin’ Jim, “Come walk with me.” He strummed on his guitar and continued-

“Through the big pines trees,” “Through the big pines trees”

“From the mountaintops,” “From the mountaintops”

“To the shining seas,” “To the shining seas

IMG_5083My eight-year-old imagination ran wild as the images he was painting with his lyrics flew vividly across my mind. I could see myself scrambling to the top of a mountain shaded by pine trees, my Tamagotchi swinging from my favorite purple and teal backpack. I would find a smooth, worn walking stick and carry it with me as I descended all the way to the ocean- step by step in my Jelly sandals.

Our childish voices rose together until they resembled shouting more than singing. All shyness and hesitation were gone. We were more than Walkin’ Jim’s captive audience- we were his wild disciples. The chorus carried on as the energy in the room hummed through all of us-

“Where the critters roam,” “Where the critters roam

“Free and on their own,” “Free and on their own”

“In the wilderness,” “In the wilderness

“We’ll be right at home,”“We’ll be right at home.”

Walkin’ Jim’s voice grew quieter and more serious in a way that us kids couldn’t quite understand but somehow felt, as we repeated the last two lines of the chorus with him-

“In the wilderness,” “In the wilderness

“We’ll be right at home,”“We’ll be right at home.”

The song ended and we all sat wide eyed and changed before erupting into applause, kids bouncing excitedly on their knees. Walkin’ Jim went on to sing songs about a mopey moose, slugs and bugs, elusive pikas, and how wild things need wild places. We all went nuts for his song, “A Kid for the Wild” because that was just what we had become- kids for the wild.

I thought of Walkin’ Jim two summers ago for the first time in years while on a three-day backpacking trip in the Goat Rocks Wilderness of Washington. I had just seen my first pika and immediately started belting out in excitement one of Walkin’ Jim’s songs that jumped to my mind, “Pika, pika, show me your face. I know you’re out there but I can’t see no trace.” The first time I sang this song I was eight and had no idea what a pika was. A fuzzy picture was projected onto the wall behind Walkin’ Jim, which apparently taught me enough to recognize one about twenty years later when I came across it in a rock scree. I thought about Walkin’ Jim a lot that trip, in the slow and meandering way that thoughts cross our minds like rivers while hiking. When I got home I googled him, only to learn that he had passed away years ago.

It’s been almost ten years since Walkin’ Jim died of cancer at age fifty-seven. He had returned to my elementary school for years as he hiked back and forth across America, sharing his songs and his love for nature with kids through school programs. His long-distance hiking led him to the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the U.S. Continental Divide trail, and most places in-between. He was a poet, a songwriter, an author, an environmental activist, and a lover of all things wild. I will always be grateful for the wildfire that Walkin’ Jim lit in my tiny soul for wild places and exploration. He opened my mind to a bigger, more raw wilderness than the backyard streams and farm fields of the Virginia countryside. He helped make me a kid for the wild.

Who or what made you a kid for the wild? Are they still alive? Reach out to them and let them know how much you appreciated their guidance to help foster your connection to nature.

I think one of the most important things that Walkin’ Jim was preaching through his songs is that we are all kids for the wild, whether we are in touch with our wild side or not, and it is our duty to protect this wildness in and around us. And as Walkin’ Jim sang it best- in the wilderness, we’ll be right at home.

*All of Walkin’ Jim Stoltz’s music is available on Spotify, including his album “A Kid for the Wild” or listen here

Walkin’ Jim Stoltz photo found on his website https://walkinjim.com/in-loving-memory/


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