I Had a Gloriously Wild Childhood. That’s Why I Wrote ‘How to Train Your Dragon.’

By Cressida Cowell for The New York Times

I was 9 years old, hanging on as tightly as I could to my father’s legs as he dangled over the edge of a gigantic sea cliff on a tiny little island off the west coast of Scotland. He was trying to see whether the bird’s nest some 15 feet below was being inhabited by a white-tailed sea eagle or a buzzard.

The answer was important to my father. Sea eagles had only just been reintroduced into the Hebrides, and a nest would be a sign that they might be able to re-establish themselves in that part of the world. What was more important to me was that the gale whistling briskly off the Atlantic sea should not blow us off the cliff entirely: If I lost hold of my father’s legs, he would plunge to his death on the rocks below.

I remember wondering, as the cold rain lashed my face and the wind tore at my flapping anorak: “Why on earth is my father so unconcerned? What would make him trust his life to my puny little 9-year-old arms? How can I possibly be related to this wonderful but crazily fearless man?” When a sudden gust of wind made him sway a few moments later, my heart stopped. I could feel myself losing my grip on his legs.

The adventure on the cliff top was just one of many exciting but terrifying experiences in my gloriously wild childhood. There was the time my father accidentally tied the boat to a lobster pot instead of a buoy and we were blown out to sea. There was a trip out in a storm where the waves turned into great hills, and we had to bail out the water coming over the side of the boat. When I was a child, these experiences had been scary. But when I look back as an adult, I realize how much I owe to the freedom to explore nature that my parents allowed and encouraged.

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