I have always loved spending time in nature, but lately I’ve been hungry for it, like I am for a food I’ve been craving (usually mint chocolate chip ice cream), and missing it like a loved one whom I haven’t seen in a while.
As a child, I used to spend hours exploring the forest by my grandparents’ cottage, and I always felt rejuvinated, refreshed and alive during those excursions and long afterward. As an adult I have found that the extra time and the encouragement to go outside are not something provided by society; if I want it, I have to work it into my schedule – I have to be the one to make it happen. But why is this? Why is it that our culture is so driven by profit and so-called “progress”, so fast-paced and technology-oriented, and so undervaluing of the natural world? Many of my students and other youths I’ve worked with envision YouTube as their claim to fame, and are so disconnected from nature. But I think there’s value in spending time outside, getting your hands dirty, walking the land, and observing the flora and fauna. I think I am driven to protect the environment because of the connection forged by hours getting to know it and developing a “sense of place” in the woods, creek, and lake near the cottage.
So, my boyfriend and I have been trying to go on nightly walks (with the dog), and a longer hike each weekend, often incorporating new places that we haven’t been to before.
This weekend, my boyfriend and I took the dog for a brief camping/hiking trip near Ithaca. It was Jasper’s first time camping, and he seemed to enjoy the experience (he’s eager to join in anything we do), although he did seem a little unsure and let out a low growl and woof when a large and loud bus-turned-camper pulled in near our site. He has never been fond of big vehicles, possibly a carry-over from when he was brought up from down south with dozens of other dogs, taken from high-kill shelters and foster homes in the hopes of finding adoptive families further north. He hardly ever barks or growls, so when he does, we know he’s anxious. Luckily, he settled down quickly – he loves people and being outside.
In the morning, we went for a four-mile hike through the woods and along the edge of a gorge. There were countless newts along the trail, which meant that for much of the hike, we were looking down to make sure we didn’t step on any. I love seeing woodland creatures and was not expecting to see these little guys, so it was a fun surprise!
One couple we met was trying to keep track – they had counted 93 when they passed us (going the opposite direction), and that was towards the end of our hike/the beginning of theirs.
When we were able to look up, what beautiful sights we saw!
Seeing interesting wildflowers and other plants that I’m not familiar with intrigues my curiosity. I found myself taking photos of some of the flowers I noticed, especially ones I didn’t remember from the woods of my childhood. When we got home, I looked up the ones I’d seen. (I found out this one is a “red columbine”.)
Like the antidote prescribed for an ailment, the forest has a healing effect on my mind. Taking a long walk on quiet paths, next to babbling brooks, and in the shade of trees and rock walls has a way of bringing me back to myself, easing the tension, and reminding me of what a wonderful place I live in.
How much time did you spend in nature growing up/what kinds of activities did you enjoy doing outside as a kid? Do you feel like your childhood experiences with the environment have impacted your perception of nature/the outdoors as an adult (or older youth if you’ve not yet reached adulthood)? I’ve been reading a book on forest bathing recently, and I am excited that new opportunities like this are becoming more commonplace. I’m interested in learning what types of activities others are doing to (re)connect with nature.