Casaubon's Book

At my house today it was 82 and humid. It is hot, but there’s a breeze, and shade from the trees. The air is heavy and moist, but rich and green and earthy as well, and my house stays cool downstairs. In New York City today, the temperature was above 90, and I can still smell, from my childhood in other cities, that shimmering hot urban mix of garbage, asphalt and pollution. Don’t get me wrong – I love cities. But hot town, summer in the city is not always when urban life’s virtues shine.

I was an urban kid for part of my childhood, which is why I remember so strongly and passionately when my family went to visit my grandmother. She lived in a city too – but on the outskirts, where land was still green and there was an open acre to run through and woods to hike in across the road. Family camping trips and proximity to the ocean, and most of all, my grandmother’s house meant that there was an escape from the heat. Without those things, my childhood would have been very different.

And the cities are getting hotter now, the air quality more dangerous for the millions of children with asthma. Other things are different now too – more than ever in history we need connections between communities and cultures, between city and suburb, country and city. More than ever we need a population that understands where its food comes from and has touched the dirt. More than ever we need to understand each other’s experience. Eating together, living together, playing together is one way to begin.

The Fresh Air Fund has, for more than a century been giving urban kids in New York City a chance to leave the city and live with a host family in a town, suburb or the country. They get to do all the things we country mice take for granted – often for the very first time. And host families get to be enriched by new life, new friends and new experiences.

My family is planning to apply to host Fresh Air Fund children this year – it is something I’ve long wanted to do. And the Fresh Air fund has also asked me to publicize their situation – they still need both funds to buy bus tickets and pay for camps and also host families. Until June 30th, any donations you make will be matched and doubled.

I know many of my readers live in between Virginia and Maine in the Eastern US or in adjacent parts of Canada, and many of you have found your little piece of eden and are growing food and turning it into your small paradise – whether a half acre in the suburbs, a moderate lot in a small town or acres in the country. I hope some of you will consider hosting a child or children from New York City who would otherwise never get a chance to see a chicken up close, or dig in the dirt with you, to swim in a real lake or pond, eat food straight from a garden or get to know your special place.

Everyone who is aware of our ecological predicament should realize how impotant it is to connect rural and urban populations with each other, to share knowledge and build ties. This is a real opportunity to do so, and my family hopes to take it – I’m hoping some of you will too.



  1. #1 Mal Adapted
    June 24, 2010

    “Everyone who is aware of our ecological predicament should realize how impotant it is to connect rural and urban populations with each other, to share knowledge and build ties.”

    I agree with just about everything you said, Sharon, but I treasure the ambiguity introduced by that typo 8^)!

  2. #2 Lorna
    June 24, 2010

    When I was growing up in a small town in central New York, our next door neighbors hosted kids from New York City every summer. We called them the Fresh Air Kids. We loved having them; they were expert at jumping rope and knew lots of jumping chants. It was definitely a positive experience and one of my few chances to interact with an ethnic group other than my own.

  3. #3 Judy
    June 25, 2010

    How wonderful to know that the Fresh Air Fund survives! I was lucky enough to grow up in a place like your grandmother’s — outskirts of a city, lots of parks, woods and green space. The end of each elementary school year was marked by ‘Fresh Air Fairs’. Groups of kids (with scant adult supervision as I recall) would collect anything we thought was marketable, badger our moms for anything they would bake, set up our tables in the schoolyard, and hopefully turn in a stuffed coffee can to the Fresh Air Fund.

  4. #4 (: Sunshine :)
    June 25, 2010

    Thanks for this – I remember reading about this as a child – “Bobbsey Twins in the Country” I believe – but I wasn’t sure it was real. I guess it is! Wow!

  5. #5 Jennie
    June 25, 2010

    I live in Iowa, is there anything similar for Chicago kids?

  6. #6 Prometheus
    June 25, 2010

    “I live in Iowa, is there anything similar for Chicago kids?”

    Sort of. It doesn’t take that much of a trip to get to rural Illinois and there are several farms which are actually owned by the City of Chicago a little over 30 miles from downtown.

    Illinois is the second largest corn producing state and thanks to ADM et al. Chicago takes it’s identity as a commodity and processing center to heart (pig butcher to the world).

    The last time I was in Chicago they had a farm project going all summer, downtown and lakeside.

    Corn, pumpkins, gourds etc. all on some of the worlds most valuable real estate.

    Chicago has a more intense connection with farming and the advantage of the enormous green belt wrapping around lake Michigan.

    The odd thing about Chicago is that the urban funk is not as intense as in other cities because of the wind from the lake. That funk BTW is mostly fermentation.Humans+Sugar+Bacteria.

    I was sad to see one of Chicago’s oddities finally succumb to financial pressure….there was a golf course in the downtown business district. I mean right in the middle. Surrounded by sky scrapers, it was like turning a corner on Wall Street and finding a bumper car ride.

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