Recently I viewed a screening of Play Again, a documentary exploring the consequences of a childhood removed from nature. For me it was a sobering film as I recognized aspects of what is presented (kids and teens using media 5-15 hours daily or more), in the lives of some youth around me.
Reflecting on “my generation”, I’ve long felt that we’ve been placing responsibility on the next generations to reconnect with nature, and “clean things up”. But, frankly, it’s up to us parents and caring adults to fall in love with nature ourselves, and include the kids in our lives and anyone else in our journey of rediscovery.
This doesn’t have to mean throwing ourselves into the wilderness and dragging our kids along (though it can). It can be as simple as deciding to take family wanders on a regular basis in open space preserves, or even just down the street in the evening or in local parks. It means being willing to be captivated by earthworms in the grass on a wet morning. It means taking time to slow down and have an outdoor fire of some kind and hearing each others’ tales.
It means being brave enough to tell our kids (and partners and spouses) that tonight we’re going to go for a walk outside instead of stay inside each watching or playing or listening to our respective medias. Or maybe we’ll play a board game, or drop by to say hello to a neighbor.
Rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) the comfort of climbing into a tree, or walking barefoot on dirt, or just touching a fluffy pussy willow catkin, is not just about connecting with nature and discovering that we are nature–it’s about rediscovering community, valuing community. The human relationship with nature is about experiencing it with each other (as well as alone). Healthy, resilient community is an expression of nature, and interwoven with an awareness of and relationship with nature.
When we discover ourselves to be at home in nature, whether we live in a suburb, city, or in a rural area, or enter as a traveler, we discover the true nature of ourselves. Nature speaks it, our true selves, all the time.
We are never truly separate from nature. The earth nourishes us, the air is our breath in each moment. The water of ancient seas cleanses and nourishes our bodies. The stars continue to offer guidance and wise story, even when we don’t see them, or think to look for them.
When we make a wish on a dandelion, when we nibble a wild berry, when we dip our toes in the sand or the waters, let it begin anew a conversation, if it’s been a long time for you. You’ll figure out what to do next. Draw in the sand with a stick, perhaps, or weave a daisy chain.
With a child who has never had the experience of climbing trees or building shelters, or hurtling down a “kid’s” trail through shrubs, be as quiet and patient as you would with a bird you’ve found fluttering on the ground. Discover where the child is truly alive and awake. Be open to where you might find an opportunity of the natural world reaching out to that child. You may lead by example, and depending on your relationship with the child, you may be able to coax them quickly to do something fun and wild with dirt or water or mud or shrubs, to notice the birds, or smell the trees and flowers. You may be able to dive right in and that child is right with you and quickly moves past you.
With other kids it may be much harder. So many messages abound right now to be careful, be clean, stay safe, don’t trust. With a child who won’t touch dirt, who is afraid of spiders, who is fearful of the trees, just take that perceptive, open approach, noticing the child herself. Be respectful. Maybe you notice the patterns of the clouds, maybe you notice the patterns in a flower. Maybe you tell a story about finding a treasure in a forest, or a magic stone on a sidewalk.
We can learn to be wild, or learn to be wild anew. I mean “wild” as in fully alive, experiencing the liveliness of the world all around us, the vigor that can be found anywhere–even between concrete slabs. Believe that you can find the heart of nature for yourself and in yourself, and believe that it can awaken for children who seem to you the most closed.
We are wired for nature! We all have a place within its story, and its story can always be found within ourselves. Believe in that, and then find out the first place where it is true. And go from there.