unknown-2Neverland: the fictional dwelling for Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Tinker Bell and others; the place where people cease to age or grow up; the occasional nickname for the fire program. While the name refers to both the people, and the job itself, I’m still not sure if it’s a positive, or a morbid nickname. This job seems to neutralize everyone’s age to be about the same. That single crew leader, who works all summer, fishes all winter, throws tantrums when he’s hungry, and impulse buys nutritional supplements and power tools is turning thirty. That crew member who is humble as hell, has mastered the art of meditation, and has an endless list of hidden talents is twenty-three.

There’s something about this job that keeps everyone’s age at par. Perhaps because despite your age, you bear the same expectations as everyone else. You will be working outside, all day, every day. You will sweat, and work hard, and test your limits, every day. You will sleep outside, under the stars, with only crickets and loons to soothe you to sleep. When you are working on the line, you will wake up early, everyday, with a personal lake view; one that is completely still, and consumed by complete silence. And almost always, you will be waking up someplace that no one has ever been before. Watching the sun rise and set, every day. It’s easy to forget that while some people sit in traffic for 45 minutes, listening to the same radio show, you will sit in a helicopter for 45 minutes, listening to the rotor blades carry you up and across a bed of smoke, while the sun is still yawning across the morning horizon. Sometimes, it is a bit of a dream world—Neverland.

dirty facesSometimes it’s a bit of a trap; once you get in, you never want to leave. Staying in shape, working with awesome people, training outside, discovering your strengths, exploring new training sites, learning new forest floors—smiling, laughing, and playing all day, keeping us feeling and looking young. Going back to school was a challenge—the sitting, the noise, the rush. I felt stressed, all the time. My schedule was packed; every minute, of every day. My mind was always full. I felt like I was routinely staring at the ground, making sure I didn’t trip over scheduled meetings, appointments or obligations. I was forgetting to smile and laugh; to have fun and recharge. It was so easy to get caught up in my head, I was forgetting HOW to have fun. It’s so easy to wake up, sit, work, eat, work, sit, work, eat, sleep. It’s so easy to get caught in that loop, and live a sedentary life.

And I think that’s just it. A sedentary life is so easy. Recent criticisms and publications attribute historically unheard of health problems developing in First Nations communities to lifestyle changes. Specifically, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are being associated with insufficient levels of physical activity. These publications blame recent deviations from “traditional lifestyles”, declaring that Aboriginal people traditionally led healthy, active lifestyles, regularly incorporating hunting, fishing, canoeing, lacrosse, wrestling, etc.—that the loss of this traditional lifestyle is directly responsible for decreased physical activity, thereby impacting overall health and well-being. Especially at risk, apparently, are Aboriginal youth, as their adopted sedentary lives are putting their entire population at risk.

Is this connection not a bit extreme? I’m just not sure I believe that increased health problems due to sedentary lifestyles are strictly observed in First Nations populations. Is there not an increased tendency to adopt this lifestyle across the country? Across the continent? Is it reboy_w_ballally necessary to point out this trend in one particular population?

A beautiful woman I rented from one summer is fostering a 14-year old boy from Wabigoon, as well as a 13-year old girl from Shoal Lake. He loves video games. He loves meeting up with his friends online, and playing with them in the comfort of his basement. He likes the skate park and the basketball courts… for about 20 minutes. Then would prefer to be engulfed in the tranquility of the basement. She, however, loves soccer. And baseball. And basketball. She’s always involved in this, and committed to that. She plays every instrument imaginable. He’s been in Kenora for over 8-years. She had been in Shoal Lake for over 8-years. I can’t say I see or believe that there is a higher frequency of sedentary lifestyles in First Nations populations compared to any other part of the nation. Are those choices not directly influenced and shaped by our environments?

Irrespective of their ethnic background, more people are choosing to drive to work, instead of bike; choosing to station in front of a computer, instead of outside; choosing to connect and bond virtually, instead of genuinely. It’s so easy to get trapped in a sedentary routine, and I do agree, that something should change. I just don’t think that this change is only for First Nations populations—I think we all need to reconnect with our environment: get outside, and remember how to play.

smilesA wise, young boy once told us to never grow up—that it’s a trap. Having somehow, at some point, stumbled into adulthood, I’m not sure I fully agree. Rather, I would say to always check in, and make sure that you get that daily dose of fresh air, infectious smiles, and inspiring surroundings. And so, what would you say if Peter Pan were to ask, “Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?”

Author Ariel Root is currently in Kenora in her fourth season working as a forest fire fighter for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.  She has a BSc in Food Science & Nutrition from Carleton University in 2012, and is currently a graduate student in the Health Science, Technology and Policy program at Carleton University. She has been featured on APTN’s new hit TV show, Playing with Fire, Season 2.

Come back for next week’s instalment.

Photos by Ariel Root

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