Finding Your Loop: Outdoor Spaces as Friends
When I was little I often resented living deep in the woods. I didn’t have many playdates, and I certainly didn’t have neighbors to hang out with; just my relatively quiet younger sister to explore the woods with me. Our family lived on twelve wooded acres, and we were expected to spend a large portion of our time outside, even in winter. I was a pretty daydreamy kid, but even as an adult the familiar sensation of the snow crunching under my boots echoing through an otherwise silent frozen landscape snaps me back to the same childhood feeling of reassuring stillness and magic.
As a child in winter I knew which evergreen trees on our property created tiny forts beneath their snow heavy branches; in the springtime I knew which sections of our stream had the prettiest water smoothed rocks worth freezing my fingers to collect; in summer I knew irises blooming meant it was almost my birthday; in the fall I knew that when I could see a certain amount of the view over the ridge through the trees, winter was almost here. The landscape was a main character in my childhood. In knowing our small plot of land so intimately I gained a certain confidence, a deep appreciation of time on my own, and an understanding of the greater rhythms of the year that are not captured by oaktag snowmen or beach chairs on a construction paper calendar in a classroom; rhythms adults had no more control over than I did.
I don’t think you need to have acres and acres of land to explore in order to cultivate this sense of place-as-friend. My son and I walk the same loop together a few times a week, through the woods and along the lake. Past the stone earthclock that on a sunny day you can tell the time and date by. There are plenty of other places we could walk, but it is my hope that even as a toddler my son has a sense of the changing landscape, both the same but different, as we loop our way through the seasons. Yesterday we had an ice storm, and today we walked through a gorgeous landscape covered in crystal like a sleeping Snow White.
It can be really hard to get yourself out the door with a small child. There have been too many times to count that we both stay in our pajamas, and just living through the day peacefully feels like an accomplishment. That being said, sort of like exercising, when I push through my resistance to getting started and out the door, it never fails to be a boon to both our mental health, and wonderful restorative time spent together. As John Muir said “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
For further reading, I would highly suggest the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.