Nature is within us and outside of us. We are so fortunate to have city parks inhabited by squirrels, birds, and plants (some that may be native to specific areas) that grow in the full sun or under the gaze of ancient redwoods or ancestral oak trees. You see, even in the city, we ARE nature. We live in a world of human-created streets that cover up the dirt but wear down in time, and sidewalks that cannot hold back the weeds, and we have the blue sky above us in spite of all the wires that hamper our view.
The outdoors are, well, literally just outside our doors, or windows. We are a part of nature, all of us. The notion that we are disconnected to nature is a delusion: how can we be separate from something we are? It is the awareness of this connection that is the problem. Even just looking out my window, I can feel a joy and connection to what is out there’. It touches something very authentic and real inside of me and creates a feeling of peace. The leaves of a giant sunflower plant subtly breathe as I observe them in the shadows beyond my white curtains. Through the flower’s yellow petals in the background, playfully wriggle the verdant leaves of an apricot tree. The walls that separate us seem rather insignificant.
I am grateful for the four walls that shelter me from intense sun and drenching rain but I also know this house is made of the wood from trees and beneath my floors all kinds of wondrous bugs and worms make their homes in another world. I also realize that what is out there’ is perceived by what I have within me. If I am never given a chance to explore nature as a child, never know what it’s like to play in mud puddles or look up at a brilliant summer sky at night, then I can’t claim those mysteries in my inner world, either. Children who aren’t given the chance to connect with nature grow up bereft of loving the very thing that gives us life: “Mother” nature. There is a saying, “we cannot save what we do not love” and I wonder how in the world we can save’ this earth if we cannot save’ ourselves. By letting love unfold between humans and the world outside, by giving children (and adults) opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, we can save the earth’ quite effortlessly, without mandates and curriculums and laws. With our great love, decisions by countries, states, cities, and individuals to use solar power, recycle, reuse, and so forth will come naturally and without any question. We will do the right thing.
Let the children fall in love with a creek, let them marvel at a butterfly, and dance in piles of autumn leaves. Encourage unstructured time to discover a universe in a seedpod or a whole entire world in an ant hill (carefully!). Observe, breathe, dance, and PLAY. And the critical component, I believe, as an educator, is the parents. Without parents modeling this vital connection, without parents also showing their enjoyment and care of nature, children will have a much more difficult time discovering their own true nature’. Parents make the difference. Educators and religious leaders also play a vital role in guiding children towards finding a balance in life. I am not saying computers and TV are bad, I am simply stating that kids are not getting outside enough.
The brave and wise choice, then, as parents, is to turn off the TV, computer, and iPods and join their child in a simple outdoor activity. Many of us are often unable to hike the mountain trails or travel far too be in nature’; that is part of the delusion, though, because all we need to do is step outside. Buy a cheap magnifying lens and take your young child outside even to a small, grassy area and you will see what I mean. All kinds of amazing things live in the grass, all kinds of fun, creepy, crawly things. And then, there are always the clouds and the sunsets to enjoy as well; the sky is actually no limit. When you can, take the kids to a wildlife sanctuary or hike in the woods, but, in the meantime, there is plenty of life to explore right where you are.
We are so fortunate to have creeks, parks, rivers, and city paths in our communities. Next time you have a mind to, stop and look, and see what goes there, through the night and then again through the days unknown. Discover the abundance in your own backyard or patio and you will soon feel richer inside, you will soon know your own true nature that you can, truly, find in nature.
Note: I have been an educator for over thirty years, always emphasizing the connection to nature. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I first say Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. He signed a copy of his book for me and I had a nice conversation with him in a year ago. His book is great for parents and teachers alike and I highly recommend it!