I remember being six years old living in a log cabin on Texas acres.
I remember sitting on the porch watching a lightning storm with my dad.
And watching deer at dawn from the panoramic window
and sitting on a sun-bleached paddle boat on the pond’s edge
and stuffing apron pockets with hillside wild blackberries.
I remember the thorns on the blackberry bushes.
I remember being jumbled around between two big happy dogs
and picking sticker burrs out of my lacy socks
and crunching through the gray woods with my mom, dreaming of one day building a tree house in them.
And running up a hill, tall grass whipping my legs, then gazing far away shielding my eyes like an explorer on a book cover.
And weighting my drawing paper with rocks on a windy day
and digging a cave into a red clay embankment
and crushing up leaves and berries pretending to be a fairy doctor healing a pretend fawn.
I remember counting “red bud trees” with my dad through a train window
and sharing huge turkey legs at county fairs
and eating stacks of great-grandma’s pancakes with chocolate milk
and perching high in her fragrant magnolia trees.
And stomping on pecans to eat the flesh
and Easter egg hunting under old white oaks in the churchyard
and begging to wear my red lacy bloomers even though my dress was pink
and singing the doxology loud and slow every week.
I remember being twelve living in an ancient riverbed in Appalachia
and watching fireflies rise from my yard in hundreds
and catching crawfish with my hands all summer in a shady creek
and hopping from stone to stone across a mountain stream
and skipping rocks on a valley’s river
and playing flashlight tag in a forest
and walking to an open air market for Twix bars
and sinking to my hips, terrified, in mud.
I remember gawking at cliffhanger icicles
and licking snow off low-hanging branches
and hiding in sticky fat pine trees
and wearing soaking wet clothes and coming home smelling like a puppy dog.
Reminiscing about my own childhood stirs up dreams about my children’s precious childhood years. Time spent in nature doesn’t just add to their pleasant memories banks, it develops lifelong familiarity with the world that adds to their human experience. It fosters powers of sensitivity and observation and imagination and tranquility.
When my children are all grown up,
I want them to be able to look at a wide field and picture it up close- the texture of the blades, smell of the soil, the hopping crickets, the aphids and worms.
I want them to be able to daydream about the smells of fresh mint, rain-soaked hay, honeysuckle and a cold night fire.
And to see a horse or a chicken and imagine also what it smells like.
I want them to recollect the feeling of lake water up their noses
and sea salt on their lips and sand grits between their molars.
I want them to know how to grip a smooth rock or hook their heel while climbing.
I want them to know the phases of the moon by observation, not charts
and to recall breezes on their face hot, cold, dry and moist
and to anticipate moss or lichen based on a hike’s habitat.
I want them to associate birdsong with dew and soft morning light
and to comprehend the intricacies of plants and pollinators and clouds and seasons and shadows throughout the day.
To know the taste of a self-picked raspberry and cherry and peach and plum
and the color they dye the fingers and tongue.
I want them to know a thing or two about sowing and sewing
and weaving and strumming and carving and fishing and sketching and blowing milkweed spores.
As I said in a recent post, nature has become a wellspring for my children’s education and hearts so I have made it a mainstay in our days. Did you notice that the memories I listed were mostly walk-out-the-door activities? When it comes to time spent well outside, grander is not always greater. My days picking berries with my sister and scrambling down creek banks near my home were more formative for me than the treasured whitewater rafting, trail ride and mountain hike adventures. If you can’t do both, getting outside locally three to five times a week is even better than carting out to grander places three to five times a year. The years are days added up. That’s why I fill my children’s days with time well-spent in nature.