Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Gift of a Childhood in Nature

Lately, for some reason, we've been waking up at 5:30 every morning. No alarm. Just waking up and getting the day started early.

After a small breakfast together, my husband got ready for work, and I curled up on the couch with the dogs and my laptop, and checked my emails. One of them was the newsletter from Shelburne Farms, an inn and working farm on 1400 acres in Vermont. I've never been there, but I daydream about it often...visiting in the fall, when the leaves are turning on misty hiking trails and there are autumn delicacies on their seasonal menu. I love reading the latest news....they write about the new baby farm animals that have been born, cheese making, restoring the roads and trails after winter, and about the cook who is using rhubarb and asparagus grown on the farm in his spring menu.

Today's newsletter mentioned that they would be holding a screening of a film called Mother Nature's Child, which is a documentary about the deep importance of exposing children to nature. As I watched the trailer, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Here I am, living in a small town, surrounded by fields, forests, and creeks, ribboned together by the four seasons....and I can share all of this with my little son!

I began thinking about my childhood, spent wandering the tide pools, beaches, and cliffs of Bolinas in Northern California. About how all of my free time was spent outside. I remembered making (and eating) mud pies in the drive way of our home, going mushroom hunting under low pines with my father, picking blackberries from wild tangled hedges that lined the dirt roads, and how the loudest sounds were made by waves and birds. Surely, although I was unaware of the significance at the time, these experiences helped form my love for nature. No matter what hardships were going on at home, I could escape to the great outdoors, and that is not something all children have.

I thought about my adoration of the nature here. The way living with the seasons has won my heart. How I can't imagine living without them anymore. I thought about the many beautiful things I have seen. So many countless discoveries, so many moments of sheer joy, just being in the fresh air, alone with the trees and birds and my dogs, finding nests and caterpillars, frog eggs and butterflies. I cannot wait to share these things with my son, and will be forever grateful that I can.

I promised myself I would not let fear of ticks and germs get in the way of my child's nature romps. Bug spray, sunscreen, and out we go!

What role has nature played in your life? In your children's lives? Does fear of kidnappers keep you from letting your kid go out to build dams, fly kites, catch bugs, and float newspaper boats for entire afternoons? I think about that and am angry that some devious people have spoiled the carefree experience children should be having out in nature. I want my children to be able to gather buckets of berries without being afraid of strange men in bushes (or better said, without me being afraid). There are so many activities I am looking forward to sharing with my kids in nature, but I also know that there is something magical about being out on your own, just the children, exploring, jumping from high places a mother would never let you jump from, talking nonsense and throwing rocks, sliding down ravines on sheets of cardboard and daring each other to eat bugs and worms.

I really hope my children will be lucky enough to experience all of that and more, safely and happily.

xoxo country girl


  1. Your blog post brought back many memories of my childhood many years ago before there was so much news to frighten us.
    Spent most of my time outside with my friends, climbing trees, hiking, playing in sand dunes, inventing games, finding polliwogs in the shallow waters and chasing frogs. We also rode bikes, roller skated and put a board across a roller skate and sat on it for a speedy ride down the hill. We also slid on cardboard slides down hills and my father built us tents to play in when we said we were "bored." Thanks for memories! Think all that time outside sparked my love of nature and I'm sure your son will love learning from you all about natures gifts.

  2. Such a beautiful post Dawn, and everything little detail resonates with me and my childhood. As you know I had many responsibilities as a child and life was very stressful and as a result I didn't get to experience many of the indoorsy things that lots of my friends did like sleepovers, parties, shopping etc...But all of my longing to experience these things with my friends disappeared the moment I ran out of the door of the house and my worries and cares were left trailing far behind me.
    I sought solace in nature and the great outdoors and it gave me a sense of both tranquillity and excitement in my life which I desperately wanted and needed. Being outdoors in every season whatever the weather gave me a sense of freedom and of just being a carefree child without any worries and responsibilities. Being outdoors and experiencing nature with my siblings was without a doubt the happiest time of the childhood. All three of us didn’t experience our childhood and we had to become adults far too young, and Mother Nature seemed to understand this and made every single adventure magical.
    Every time I wander past a fragrant rose bush I am taken back to the years when I was convinced I was making perfume and I would dab some delicately behind me ears . We too made and ate mud pies along with many insects and it did nothing bad to our tummies, it just made us feel happy.
    I remember searching for frogspawn in spring and finding a newt that we wanted to keep as pet and pressing primroses between my favourite tree and bird guide books. The hazy days of summer climb atop the hay bales and nettles would sting our legs when we foraging in the hedgerows and having to relive the discomfort in rivers and searching for dock leaves. When the autumn came we would make piles of leaves just so that we could jump into them and have fun. In the winter it was so cold, much colder than I have experienced in recent years, our hands would turn slightly blue and we never owned coats, but we had a wonderful time smelling wood smoke in air and picking branches of holly in the hope that a robin would land on it and we could take it home.
    I too have every intention of bringing our future children up immersed in the wonder of nature and without a care in the world, other than wondering when their pooh stick will emerge from under that magical bridge where trolls reside. How very lucky we were to experience nature and to know that our children will love it just as much as we do.
    All of my love

  3. Your photographs are amazing. I always thought through my own experiences and while raising my children that influencing through experience a love of nature and animals makes more compassionate, caring people. When live gets tough, I like to revisit my love of nature. It's grounding (pun intened!).

  4. I can't tell you how much I relate to this post. I was lucky and had a very carefree childhood ~ lots of freedom and nature. I LIVED in the woods...building forts, collecting insects/animals, playing in the creek, etc. I credit that with who I have become. We had two massive pine trees that were my solace (and best friends) in life. I could climb to the top and see the entire neighborhood. I knew every branch, every bird's nest, the way they would change with the seasons....

    I worry about my daughter who is growing up in a very suburban environment. She won't have such luxuries and it makes me sad for her. I look for ways to make up for it but it's still not the same. She has nature but not the freedom to go exploring and adventuring on her own.

    Beautiful post though ~ thanks for bringing back such good memories!!

  5. Thanks for the doc preview link, I loved it, and I appreciated your message today! Abby and I plan to be outside until we HAVE to come in!

  6. Bear with me; this is a long comment, thanks to you!

    I loved your post and I applaud you for wanting your children to experience nature wiithout inhibition. I am grandmother to seven, plus two darlings that live across the way and think of my husband and me as their "Nana" and "Papa". When our two children were young, it wasn't always possible to do as much with them as we wanted, but we did try to expose them to nature as much as possible. Now that they have grown up and have children of their own, I am deeply grateful that they have allowed me to be witness to their children growing up and learning about nature. I have earnestly tried to expose these grandchildren to as much of the natural world as I can. From a very early age they have all been taught respect for animals and plants, too. When the oldest (who is now eighteen and will go off to college this fall) turned three, Papa and I hosted his birthday party here in the country where there are twenty acres of open pasture, woods, and streams. Papa gathered enough "Yankee drills", small hammers, nails and cut out kits for each of the guests to make his or her very own bluebird box. The kids ranged in age from just over two years old to around six years old. The only rule we had was that the parents could only help build the boxes, not build them for the kids. Would you believe some of the parents had never made anything of wood before, so it was a hoot watching both adults and children have such fun building the boxes. I treasure the group picture of everyone holding his/her bluebird box. My role in the party was to explain how attentive the male bluebird is to the female and how the teenage bluebirds even help raise the next brood of bluebirds. We discussed the lifestyle of the birds and it was a great opportunity to help the kids learn about family love.

    When each grandchild turned about six months old, his or her parents, Papa and I would go to the woods, find a small tree, dig it up and it would go home to be planted in the yard. Thankfully our two children owned their own property, so it wasn't a problem. Since then, our kids have moved from where the trees were planted, but the grandkids still like to drive by their old houses to check out the progress of "their tree".

    Creek stomping is a popular pastime around here. The grandkids and I all don old tennis shoes and stomp up and down the creek, splashing and laughing all the way. We are a mess when we've finished. But boy is it fun! Of course along the way, we dam up the creek and then knock it down just to see the water rush out.

    I love bugs of all kinds. I've taught the grandkids to respect all bugs and encouraged them to study them. We have lessons on why certain bugs have long antennae, or big eyes, or colorful markings, etc. I have quite a few insect books and they love for me to read to them about the different kinds. The sweetest thing of all is that I've encouraged them to bring dead bugs to me. I collect or make tiny boxes for the bugs and the kids love to see what Nana will come up with next for the bugs. I have only two rules about the bugs: the kids are not allowed to kill a bug nor are they allowed to touch spiders. You'd be amazed at how unafraid they've become of the very bugs (and bees) that most children run from...worms too.

    Hopefully you'll be able to instill the desire to be inquisitive in your children and they'll love slowing down enough to drink up the natural world around them. It sure sounds like to me that you are already well on your way to being a fantastic parent. I don't know you, but I'm proud of your efforts nonetheless!

    Love from Diane in North Carolina

  7. Wow, it was lovely to read this post and the comments that others have made. It took me right back to my childhood too. We made rose petal perfume in jam jars filled with water, we built fortresses out of freshly cut grass, wandered in the fields and generally enjoyed everything that nature offers, as children do without really thinking about it.

    I think television and the internet have raised our fears of who might be lurking in the bushes. I try not to think about it when I walk the dogs in the countryside on my own, because I don't want to miss the joy of nature as a result of seeing too much bad news on television.

    Thank you for a beautiful post, and to everyone who has shared their memories here too. It was fantastic to read them.


  8. Darling Dawn, I think the wonderful comments on this post have shown what an emotive and important subject you've raised. I so agree with Dad in particular is a fountain of knowledge on all things living & wild...taught us which plants were safe to eat very young & which must never be touched...we were always taught to respect everything that lives and never to squash bugs but to let them continue on their important journey & observe them. Many happy hours spent watching ants...and we all love (and have taught our kids to love) spiders...I actually dumped an early boyfriend who screamed and shook at the sight of one. Couldn't believe how pathetic he was (although I do have more sympathy now with genuine phobias!) You are giving your son, and the others to come, such a wonderful gift & tools for life. Compassion, wonder, joy, the ability to be still and observe...they will learn all these lessons and more because of YOU. Lucky, lucky kids!! xoxox Rachel

  9. Your posts are always a delight to read, as are your photos. This brings back so many childhood memories--of growing up in the country, outdoor explorations, climbing trees, walking through corn fields to the river; things I would love to have my own children experience one day. I have two girls, and I dearly hope for them to develop a love for and appreciation of the outdoors and all the many wonders just waiting to be discovered. And I hope I will be there with them to capture those precious first moments on screen. Here in the middle east where we have temporarily taken up residence, it is quite a challenge finding "green" places where things live and grow, but one just has to look mindfully to see that even in the desert, there is life--desert flowers and shrubs grow, birds hunt for fish just off the shore, and this is where I suprisingly sighted a bird wuite unlike any I have ever seen before. I did not have my camera on hand, a pity; it was a small, crested creature with a striped black-and-white tail like a zebra. Your post has really inspired me to notice the beauty that is all around me. Thank you! Middle-East-Mama

  10. I had a very carefree childhood and could always find myself on some sort of woodland adventure. my first son had a more sheltered littlehood because we lived in the suburbs of NYC. then when my second son was six, we moved upstate and lived on a farm. he believes he had a rather idylic boyhood and had many adventures, forts, creeks and such. We even had our own herd of deer. I do believe we cannot allow ourselves to live in fear of bad people. It always seems they end up in places you would think safe, anyway!! You will always worry and care about their safety - it's a matter of watching over with smothering them. Boys are a lot of fun. We used to go on adventures. Everyone including an amazing dog, Beau, had a name: pathfinder, woodlander, scout, etc. and we'd trek through the woods, wade in the creek, pick wildflowers. I once found an enormous patch of naturalized iris. all white. i dug a clump up, put them in my garden and the next year I had the most amazingly deep blue iris. Go figure! Enjoy it all!

  11. well... hello Dawn! I think you may be a kindred spirit. This even despite our age difference, and that I do not have children. I've just found your lovely blog through Sharon Lovejoy. This post is quite alot to take in, no? Nature IS truly important in life. I feel that you WILL find a way to safely ensure your son's education and life in the Austrian countryside! And, when I read that you are from Bolinas... I was bowled over. SO I went back to your childhood memory post of 9/09. I know these landmarks well. I too have posted about this town and the surrounding area on my blog - abundantpicnic (or abundantfinds).blogspot. What a lucky girl you were to spend your early years there. With all that the beauty in our world seems to mean to you, I'm sure your boy will feel the same.
    very sincerely, shari

  12. oh... almost forgot to add - I too have written about sour grass and that ol' nasty dog pee wives tale!

    so many co-inky-dinks... :-)
    I'll continue to follow your lovely blog!

  13. I discovered your web site via Google while looking for a related subject, lucky for me your web site came up, its a great website. I have bookmarked it in my Google bookmarks. You really are a phenomenal person with a brilliant mind!

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  14. That's called true beauty of nature. May be you discover that while on trekking . But I still confused, I think you are a photographer. Amazing Photos. Thanks for sharing.



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