As a mother, teacher, artist and poet I have very strong feelings about Nature and its roll in the lives of children. I strongly hold the opinion and belief that Nature is at the root (no pun intended) of creativity. Nature is grounding, healing, humbling, miraculous, inspiring, frightening, beautiful, vividly honest and a teacher. Nature is an equalizer. I feel that this all applies to ALL of us – of ALL ages.
It wasn’t so many decades ago in our country that when some children were released from school for the day (if they went to school), and they headed home to work on their family farm or, if they were of an age, some other part-time afternoon job. If they did neither – they were loose and rambling. In cities, they rambled in and out-of-doors in a cityscape. In less populated areas, there were woods, fields and beaches to explore.
As anyone who is paying attention or has kids today knows, the after school and summer vacation-time lives of American children has changed radically – definitely since I was a child forty-odd years ago – but even in the last ten years. In our relatively small community alone (and granted, this is a fairly affluent community), there are programs galore. There are languages to study, toys beyond belief, waaaaayyy too much electronic stuff, music (which is wonderful), lessons – lessons – lessons…sports, groups, clubs and so forth. If you look at the calendar hanging in the average Ashland kitchen that tracks the movements of our “average” American children, it truly is incredible. Hopefully, there is gratitude for all of these opportunities, and yet – I’m feeling a bit of melancholy as well.
I’ve a fond childhood memory is of sitting in the apple tree near our family home on Oregon Street. The tree grew in a vacant lot (now there’s a term infrequently used lately), and ones main objective was to get up as high into the branches as possible and eat the tart apples while throwing the wormy ones down the adjacent street. Picture it: the arching, spinning toss of a bright green apple against a pale blue afternoon sky and dangling bare legs and pavement dirty feet hardly visible through the leaves. Hear the laughter and cry of delight at the “Pop!” of the fruit striking the ground; the skin bursts and iridescent flecks go flying, white flesh and seeds explode and scatter across the dark asphalt. Breathe in the too sweet fermenting aroma of windfalls which are composting slowly in the leaves and dirt below, and grin with delight at the mischief and poetry of this simple pastime…sitting in an apple tree.
We have to wonder, in our present busy lives, how many children have spent even ten minutes in an apple tree, much less picked their own tart Granny Smith from a heavy branch? How many backlot spy games will transpire this afternoon? Walks down spring rain dampened dirt paths? Contests among friends in an open field without a whistle or a score keeper or a clock – where the rules evolve as the sport unfolds and officiating occurs by consensus and fair play?
How many of our children know how to hang out in Nature? How many of YOU know how to hang out in Nature?
It’s really not that complicated and definitely no big deal. You do not have to go camping or hike some steep mountain. Just step outside a few extra yards today. Leave your agenda (and your iPhone) behind. Whether the place in nature is a window box, a back yard, an apple tree or the deep woods – when Nature and humans are brought together peacefully – there is positive alchemy that feeds imagination, curiosity, intelligence, relationship with self – and thereby others, and one’s very soul.
Careful out there. If you do it everyday, in some small way, even for just a moment or two – you will change. For the better.
To explore the very real phenomenon of Nature Deficit Disorder, check out the incredible work of Richard Louv, author of Last Child In The Woods.
To read up on how other communities are pursuing No Child Left Inside, start here with a fantastic article from Orion magazine.
To change your mind and your heart, the only link to click is the off button on this box. Try it for a bit, and take a walk in your neighborhood.