Lately, there’s been a lot of coverage about “free-range parenting” in my neck of the woods. I honestly have no opinion on the topic, but it got me thinking about adventures out in nature. Here’s a repost of a 2012 essay about the rewards of taking some chances and being a little uncomfortable out in nature – enjoy!
Last weekend, our family took a terrific guided hike through the Harper’s Ferry, WV area led by Larry Broadwell from the Maryland Sierra Club. We bushwhacked through brambles and up hills to find old Civil War forts that are now covered with weeds and trees. This was not an easy hike. The kids were covered with scratches from tangles of vines, burns from spring-growing nettles, bruises from falling down hills, and smiles from the fun they were having! We imagined ourselves as civil war soldiers, climbing up hills to surprise the soldiers in the forts. We really got a great sense of how difficult it must have been to be a soldier, wearing a wool uniform in summer, carrying a heavy rifle, and probably fighting on one meal a day.
This hike reminded me of a friend I had many years ago. We were at a party and people were talking about all sorts of interesting strolls they had on various nature trails in the area. My friend, who worked in organic agriculture and lived for many years in a house-trailer in Kansas responded, “Nature! These people don’t know anything about nature, nature that can freakin’ kill you!” Now, I don’t advocate doing fool-hardy stunts or ignoring dangerous weather conditions, but my friend did have a point that’s applicable to my life (he also gave my family a great catch-phrase). I’ve often found that although my kids always like getting outside, they really love experiences that involve some challenge and they really respect Mother Nature more when they feel her power. Like bushwhacking up a hill to find a long-forgotten fort or climbing through the rock scramble to get to the top of Old Rag. Like getting wet in a cold stream while hunting for salamanders and crayfish (and then getting pinched by those same crayfish). Or hiking in the snow. I still remember camping as a kid and waking up to snow all around our tents – and that was back in the days of cotton sleeping bags, brrr! (Full disclosure: I do prefer “glamping” these days and just bought some very comfy cots for this summer’s outings).
On our trip a few years ago to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most visited park in the U.S.), one of our most enjoyable hikes was one we took in a rainstorm (no lightning or thunder – again, I’m not stupid). Because the weather was lousy, the crowds were fewer (a big plus in the Smokies), and the waterfalls were spectacular in the rain. The kids loved telling their friends about that particular hike! And my kids aren’t the only ones who love a challenge. Just last week, I photographed a small group of girl scouts planting trees for Earth Day at a local state park – it was 50 degrees, raining, and they were laughing the whole time! My in-laws in Portland OR, never let a little snow or rain get in their way – they’re always off snowshoeing or hiking in the mist! And those of us who live in warmer climates can grab the sunscreen and water and head into the summer swelter for a few adventures.
The bottom line is, we don’t have to wait for 70 degrees and sunny to venture out with the kids. Some of their most memorable experiences will be when nature wasn’t at its easiest!
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