My childhood was no where near glamorous. We didn’t live in the lap of luxury. We were poor at times. We were lower middle class during the best of times. But my childhood was nothing if not fun. I thank my mother for much of that fact. Her love for travel and the outdoors kept us exploring most of the United States throughout my whole childhood. Couple this with my love for reading and all things mystical and beautiful, any small expedition sparked my imagination so that it could become a great journey in my mind and in my soul.
With my mother’s blood flowing through my veins and her love for exploring in my heart, I find myself frequently dragging our kids along on some expedition. Clarify: when you have four kids, any little trip is an expedition. Sometimes there’s whining and complaining. There’s pretty much always some form of fighting and/or arguing, in between them all. And there may be times that at some point our adventure seems like more work than it’s worth. But the truth is… THEY LOVE IT. As do I.
It was one of our most recent little adventures that led me to realize the extent of how much our children love exploring and being outdoors. For my step-son’s birthday, we called it a day-off for everyone. We packed up in the minivan and drove out to Red Rock Canyon, Oklahoma. A short trip from our suburban home in Oklahoma City, Red Rock Canyon is a fun place to go. Locally, it is a well known state park, albeit a small one. There are no towering mountains. But there are trails for hiking and rock walls for climbing. There are small playground areas with swings and slides, a small pond for fishing, and a wistful stream that runs through it. There’s a swimming pool open during the summer time along with a concession stand. The canyon walls that surround it are the most unique feature of this country park, with their red sandstone that set apart so brightly from the trees and the sky. As a kid, I can remember coming here with my parents. Running around, hiking, and collecting rose rocks. There is nothing fancy about this sparse, but nature filled place. It’s beauty is primarily in the rustic nature and pure uniqueness of the surroundings. You have to look to see the beauty here. You have to be willing and interested, otherwise it would be easy to just see a red dirt canyon with not a lot to do other than wander around in the woods.
This is how I realized how open our childrens’ eyes are to the beauty of the outdoors. They were intrigued by every shade of rock. They wanted to follow every path to see where it led. They climbed every canyon wall they could conquer to see what lie atop. And they appreciated every view they beheld during their climbs. They stopped to carve their names in the sandstone, with full belief that it may remain there for an eternity. They found long sticks and used them as staffs and walking sticks. Each of them, regardless of their difference in age (they range from 19 months to 12 years) loved to be under the blue sky exploring this new and unchartered territory.
On a day to day basis our four kids are completely happy to play XBox games, watch movies, laugh at videos on YouTube, and play on our iphones. But after seeing that natural excitement come out in them all so easily, that inborn want to explore the world and be one with nature, I can’t help but think that I am doing them a disservice if I don’t actively support for them a childhood filled with nature and the outdoors.
When I was a child, a small Oklahoma red dirt ditch was a mountainous ravine in which my Barbies and my brother’s GI Joes fought along side one another to defend the universe. Every unturned board in the pasture had the potential to be hiding a snake or a gold mine underneath. The country was mine to explore and imagine. There are so many ways to find a connection to the world, but is there any so natural as discovering, exploring, and enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer?
There are many things that we need to provide for our children: food, shelter, material needs, emotional support, healthcare, love, education, compassion. The list may have no end. But there is another important fundamental element that we need to provide our children access to in order to help them grow and learn in the world: the chance to commune with nature, to live a childhood natural and unbridled, to feel that innocent and inborn desire to explore, if only for moments at a time.
Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Kahlil Gibran