Back to Nature
Written by Butterfli O’Shea
My childhood home was one mile from the nearest beach and I had a grassy backyard. My elementary school was a short walk from home, and behind the school was a chaparral ecosystem. The children in the neighborhood referred to it as a little forest, that included eucalyptus trees and a foot trail.
It was often easy, even a relief, for the adults in our lives to take us on a walking trip to the beach or a nature trail. The experiences were adventurous, happy, and peaceful. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know.
On the trail, the mint honeyed scent of eucalyptus was ever-present, the deep yellows and oranges of the California Poppy in cheerful bunches along the path, and various birds flying and floating overhead calling out to each other. Touching and feeling various plants, watching the brown and grey fence lizards scurry up and down rocks, with garden snakes not far behind.
At the beach we’d walk bare foot, feeling soft dry sand and firm wet sand, and feel the grains against our skin when wading in the waves. Seagulls about us, with curt shouts to each other, folding their wings as they landed. The falling sound of waves as they lifted-up and dropped back down. Slippery seaweed, grooves on clam shells, soft driftwood, and the turquoise rainbow inside of an abalone shell.
Certainly, we preferred to go on a nature trip than be inside a chalk dusty classroom or the nagging familiarity of our own backyards. Even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted better outside. Outside we could breathe fresh, clean air.
Back then, being outside in our natural environment was as expected as tying the laces on our sneakers. When one child found something new, it was a discovery for us all, as our curiosity multiplied itself through sharing, and when one question and answer came along, more followed. We learned about nature, our natural environment, and ourselves. We felt free and energized. It was an unspoken growing together of child and nature, cohabitating on earth.
As time passed, we became adults living varied lives. No matter what path we chose to live as adults, a great majority of us maintained our connection to nature, and many of us became its caretakers in our daily lives.
Our current youth are in more demanding circumstances than generations previous. Our youth have the lure and requirements of technology, for both leisure and school work. This has increased disconnect with our natural world and some people feel discomfort at the idea of spending time with nature. “It is increasingly normal to spend little time outside,” states a report from NatureofAmericans.org1.
The obstacles in connecting youth and communities to the outdoors are few, yet the strategies are many.
Make participating in the outdoors accessible. Many communities have gained success by encouraging various organizations working together, such as schools, parent groups, childcare centers, park agencies, and community-based organizations. Make suggestions at your child’s school, at local organizations, and with your neighbors and friends. There are a lot of great ideas in your own community, and a lot of people interested in volunteering and sharing their knowledge. Each organization or group can mention the activities in their own publications and communications, further assuring more to be informed there is something out there for them to enjoy.
Having a wide variety of outdoor activities for various interests and age groups nurtures the interest of more people, both those you are trying to get outdoors and those who would be willing to contribute their time and efforts. The activities can be traditional, such as fishing and hiking and museums, parks, gardens, zoos. They can also be non-traditional, such as drawing or writing poetry at the park. My personal favorite is the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour Program2. It is designed to encourage individuals and groups to adopt one hour per day for children to play and learn outdoors in nature. You can also make this a family activity.
Spending time in nature gives our youth a place to escape their stresses from our over busy and technology demanding society. When you involve other youth, it turns peer pressure into a positive, as they pay attention to a friend’s encouragement to spend more time in nature. “… youth are more likely to associate being in nature with being peaceful, free, calm, and happy than with any other characteristic.”3
“… connection to nature is not a dispensable amenity, but rather is essential to the health, economic prosperity, quality of life, and social well-being of all …”