I was a child in the 80’s and a teen in the 90’s. Back then almost all kids spent most of the time outside. Being in school was torture and harsh weather that kept us indoors was the worst. Even when I was a teenager hanging out with skater boys we were usually found outside loitering somewhere.
So many afternoons I would lie on my best friend’s giant trampoline, staring up at the clouds, day dreaming about where the people flying overhead in airplanes were headed. We created make believe scenarios based on our surroundings or whatever the upcoming holiday was. I used to love sitting outside and watching the leaves dropping from the tree branches as summer faded into fall.
We watched TV and played Nintendo games, sure. Compared to kids today though it doesn’t come close. I feel so lucky to have grown up without smartphones and tablets, instead left to use the library and depend on books or adults to learn things. I rolled out of bed everyday anxious to get outside and have adventures. My friends and I rode bicycles everywhere, never wore sunscreen, came in for water breaks once or twice in an eight hour stretch, and man if it didn’t make us so smart to be immersed in the natural world all day long, day after day.
Where I lived was definitely suburbia but bordered by rural areas, so we were observing cows chewing cud in the field behind us, but also walking to the shopping center a half mile from our house to buy candy or rent VHS movies.
We learned to tell if a storm was rolling in if the winds picked up and the air started to smell a certain way. We witnessed the cruelty of nature when we stumbled onto an animal carcass that had been another’s lunch, or a bird with a damaged wing (my poor mother had to take more than one bird to the zoo at our request). Not to mention all the things we learned about human behavior from the glimpses into neighbors’ windows as we roamed from yard to yard.
Today, the weather in Southwest Missouri is nearly perfect. It’s warm but not humid, and a gentle breeze fills the lungs and keeps the skin from getting too toasty. The sky is a standout blue with those puffy white clouds that look like cotton candy. I remember being little and telling my dad I wanted to fly through the clouds. He told me I wouldn’t like it much because they are cold and icy. After I recovered from my immense disappointment I let it be a reminder that things are often not what they seem. Especially in nature.
My first experiences as an herbalist were during childhood when lovely scented shrubs or interesting looking berries piqued my curiosity and I had to give them a taste test. Honeysuckle, mint patches, sour grass, hay, dandelions, and chickweed are a few of the plants that spring to mind when I think about foraging during play. As an adult when I read that a plant or berry we played with is toxic to consume, I find it amazing that somehow we had the intuition to know not to stick it in our mouth. This intuition was developed through spending countless hours interacting with our natural environment and observing animal behavior and what they ate and left untouched.
I know I’m not alone in my concern that our lack of a connection to nature today is a huge detriment to human character and society at large. An excellent book to read about that very topic is Last Child In The Woods by Richard Louv. He has an easy to absorb writing style and the book is truly inspiring.
For a lot of us here in the States, autumn brings with it a break from the oppressive heat and a chance to spend more time outside. If you have children I hope that you can prioritize time outdoors with them. One of the positive changes to occur during the current pandemic is record sales of bicycles and crowded hiking trails as people decide to go outside because of boredom. How fabulous that boredom lead so many to a new passion!
With the right gear ( a down coat, waterproof boots, quality hats and gloves, etc.) you can get outside almost every single day of the year. If you were to keep a small journal and jot down just a few things that you observe daily, by the end of one year you would be a radically different person. Sound unbelievable? Why not try it yourself?