Where are you? What’s the weather like by you right now? Let me tell you what it’s like in lower New York state: grim. Last week we had a couple of gorgeous days, and I even cleaned out the garden beds. But just as quickly the cold of winter pulled us back. The skies got gray, and the bitter cold returned. I’ve been feeling so cold, even though it’s technically not much colder than it’s been all winter. Something about the yearning for spring makes it sting a little more than usual. I don’t feel able to weather the weather anymore. Like most people, I am done with winter. But it’s not done with us, even though the vernal (or spring) equinox is in just a few days.
Nonetheless, we still walk. I would say I walk alone about 50% of the time. I love walking alone–it’s important for my peace of mind: it’s therapy, it’s church, it’s meditation. When I walk with someone else, I get lost in conversation, and I am less likely to concentrate on the path and reap the benefits of solitude. My main walking partner for the other 50% of the time is my 12-year-old son, Sterling. Some of the time my partner, his dad, joins us. But most of the time, it’s just me and Sterling.
Sterling has been walking the trails with us since he was born–before he could walk! It was essential during those years where he couldn’t stop moving, from say 4 to 6. But I want to point out that he is not a “nature kid.” While he does enjoy being outside, looking for frogs and squishing in mud, it’s not his first thought. These days he’d much rather be inside reading a book or, of course, playing video games. There were a few years when he’d dig in his heels, and I’d have to cajole him to walk with me. His main complaint was that walking was boring. We started telling stories while we walked to make it more interesting. Then he started telling us stories. I think now we’ve gotten to a point where he knows it’s just part of our life. I asked him while on a longer hike the other morning if he’d still go for walks as an adult, and he responded with a quick yes. It gave me that rare feeling of parental success.
It was a surprise to me when I realized he wasn’t interested in the woods. I was happiest exploring the suburban woods I grew up in. But I now realize that not all kids are going to like to walk or get outside. A lot of people like to say that kids are naturals outside, and that if you let them outside they’ll easily find that joy. But it depends on the person. Sometimes it doesn’t happen so quickly. In some instances, it’s really about constant everyday habits. I think some people, age notwithstanding, really have no desire to go outside. Or don’t know why they should. We all get different things from it. I think Sterling’s connection to nature is with creativity–when we walk he thinks of stories and adventures and the constant walking helps move the story line.
While creativity is a part of my connection to nature and walking, I am also interested in learning about new plants, animal tracks, mushrooms, etc. Sterling had absolutely no interest the other day when I pointed out the new leaves of the hepatica hiding under the leaf litter. As I leaned down and excitedly looked for flower buds, he stood there patiently, waiting for me to move along. But that knowledge is now inside him–kids always listen even if they aren’t hearing you. It washes into them, and it may not surface again until perhaps they have children, and then maybe one day he’ll point it out to his child, who won’t really care at that moment but will internalize it: this is a hepatica. One of our earliest spring time plants.
You might have read The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. A friend of mine gave it to me when I had Sterling. Nature was all kids had 100 years ago. Now there is so much competing for their attention. And for kids who are not naturally excited by nature, it makes getting them to appreciate the outdoors all the tougher.
Wild Earth, a local organization, has a great program that brings kids at our schools outside. They also have a lunch time program where counselors come to the school and play games with kids during recess. Obviously this hasn’t been happening this year, but I hope they return to offering it. There are so many kids who don’t have the opportunity to get out in the woods.