Tobin in a wagon we used to lug our gear to a walk-in campsite during a recent camping trip in Tennessee.
As a kid, my two brothers and I spent all of our free time outside. Even in my early memories, I remember feeling a heady sense of freedom from spending time exploring the outdoors. It was the creek behind my house. It was climbing the tallest tree in the neighborhood. It was finding a fossil pit. My parents had rules about bed time, chores, food choices and homework. But outside, my brothers and I were free to roam.
Before we were of driving age, we had already spent a healthy portion of our lives discovering our little part of the world. We noticed the changes in the seasons – from the sky getting darker earlier, to watching the leaves change from green to golden and orange hues to catching the first snowflake on our tongues to seeing the very first fire fly. Time was marked not by a watch or calendar, but by our observations.
In some ways our world was small. We didn’t have cable. We didn’t have computers. We didn’t travel out of the country. We didn’t know about rain forests or the deep sea or the arctic tundra. But we knew all about what berries and flowers you could eat. We knew how to look at a cloudy sky and tell if it was going to thunderstorm. We knew about tides and what time the lowest tide was that would expose certain tidal islands in our backyard creek.
If I could give only one gift to my baby, I would chose to pass along my relationship with the outdoors. To me, nature is a place for comfort, for calming, and for adventure. Nature has always been the setting for my very best memories. I never sleep better than I do nestled in my tent listening to the sound of a creek or river. Nor do I feel more at peace or like myself more than when I’m paddling a river or running a trail.
Tobin already likes playing in and around kayaks.
Will I be able to pass along an appreciation for spending time outdoors? I grew up in a rural area, with lots of space and few people or cars to worry my parents. My baby boy and I live in town, where the houses are close together, the cars are many, and the green, open spaces are few. And so I’ve had to accept that my boy’s experiences in nature will of course differ from my own.
Tobin helping Meghan pick a tomato.
Each generation’s connection to nature changes. My grandparents tell stories of growing up on big farms, and being intimately connected to a hard day’s work beginning at the first sign of the sun. And their grandparents tell stories of vast wilderness frontiers, having to carve an existence in harsh climates, frequently encountering wild animals.
I think about how I will make the outdoors accessible to my son. Because the best I can give to him is a place that is always his for seeking it out, a place in nature to rejuvenate, to feel calm, and to feel challenged. For now, it is enough for him to have a grassy area to play in, his for the exploring, and a garden to experience dirt between his toes or in his mouth.
These are experiences I can provide in our little bit of a backyard. When we have more time, I like to take him to the outdoors. Recently we went to pick a wild grape that grows near the river at the end of the summer. We also go to petting farms so that he can see animals. I wish I could let you hear that sound of his giggles as he pets the goats or listens to the rooster. It is a sound of pure delight! He claps his little hands in glee whenever he sees a dog, and I hope that soon I will be able to add a dog to our family.
Tobin reaching for a scuppernong:
Tobin and I at the petting farm at the Biltmore Estate.
How can we ensure our kids connect to the outdoors even if we don’t live in the type of environment that makes it second-nature? What activities do you do on a daily or weekly basis to get our baby outside?