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Have you been outside today?
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I am on my soapbox today.

I'm going to say at the outset that I fully understand that there are people who have serious allergic reactions to certain things and I appreciate that. I also understand that there are bad people in the world who will do bad things to others.

Having said that, let me begin my diatribe for today.

We have allowed ourselves to become a nation of people who are afraid of one another, and as a result, we are afraid to go out of our homes.

There are researchers who now contend that some of our health problems, such as allergies and asthma, are increasing because we are spending too much time indoors.

We recently moved into our home and had some brand new furniture that came in boxes. They were great boxes. Good, sturdy boxes that I would have loved as a kid.

Frank Lane, who lived out his final years in Gainesville, was the Georgia Power man in Social Circle years ago. In fact, he was the Georgia Power Co. in Social Circle. It was a one-man office. If somebody's power needed to be turned on, Mr. Lane locked the office door and put up a note that he would be right back.

In those days, Georgia Power sold appliances - not very many, but when one needed to be delivered, Frank Lane was the delivery man and installer, too.

When Frank Lane would deliver an appliance, he would save the box for me and my buddies. Sometimes, he would just drop the box right in our driveway.

The box would become a fort or a hut. When it fell apart, it became a target for arrows or BBs.

We played outside.

On a Saturday, Mama would fix a sandwich for me and I'd have 15 cents to get a Coke at Mr. Jim Paul Shepherd's service station. I would be out and about until suppertime.

When was the last time you saw a kid playing in the yard?

Because we saw some missing child from California on a milk carton, we have locked up our own kids. We have homes with fenced-in backyards that are virtually untouched.

My parents never had a manicured lawn because we created a ball field, a bike or go-cart track, or something else that destroyed a portion of the turf.

I was driving in the yard at age 13 or 14. I would wind the pickup truck through the trees.

I was always conducting some kind of "experiment" to see what concoctions I could create. Most of them involved dirt and water. By the way, the result was usually mud or muddy water. I would later wash the bottle out and return it for the 3 cent deposit. That was enough for three pieces of bubble gum.

Someone referred me this week to a book called "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder."

The book includes the story of a boy who said he likes being inside because there are more electrical outlets.

I'm not suggesting that getting back outdoors is going to fix everything, but we're going to have a generation or two that knows nothing except how to play video games and watch TV.

Until we change that, eating a little dirt, playing with a box and using nature to stimulate your mind will be something we read about in storybooks.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.