I found that there were secrets in the mountains and songs in the streams. I found poems in the forests and treasure hunts among plants and power in the rocks. I found homes in little nooks and made tea for woodland parties. I questioned the wonders of the universe, counted stars and blades of grass alike, fell asleep in the rain on a bed of pine needles and ferns. I wanted to see more, do more, to climb higher. I wanted to whisper to the praying mantis and scream to the eagles across the shore. I found that there was nothing that was simply itself alone. The connection between everything was immense, and I knew that. I didn’t learn to fear the snake or the storm or the sea, but rather fell in awe of them. I wasn’t scarred by the wildness, I found my greatest teachers there. To be frank, there is nothing more powerful than a child at play, for the untainted young mind that is placed in the wild world is bound to find lessons much beyond any book.
I was lucky enough to be given the freedom to learn these lessons. Some aren’t so lucky. Being young, there are really only two ways to learn, one being called upon naturally and the other being influenced by others. The first is to be taught questions, and the latter to be taught answers. Too many children are being taught answers. This does not lead to the thinkers and doers of tomorrow- it leads only to knowing pre-programmed responses. With questions, however, the world is at your fingertips. With questions, you find more questions and more questions, while with answers you learn complacency.
Yarrow Quest, age 8-
Sketchbook in one hand, dad’s hand in the other. Surrounded by mountains. Eyes to the ground. Looking for white flowers, green branched leaves. Warm, small wind. Little hands brush against the dirt, little eyes identify the hidden plant. We find our gold: Yarrow tucked under some sage brush, peeping out into the summer sun.
On that day I thought that we were on an adventure to find my new favorite plant, however, it turns out that I was actually being taught to question the world, and in turn, to learn from it. Without trying, I was questioning why the weather was the way it was, why yarrow likes to grow under other plants sometimes, why the deer left tufts of fur on the bushes, why there was yarrow both at home and here, why, why, why, why… It is our natural state to question, especially as children.
Parents, feed those questions. There is nothing better to give your children than a life filled with curiosity, and the outdoors is brimming with experiences to help. The best way to foster this is to be outside WITH those kiddos. They need guides in the world that will help them turn over rocks and climb mountains. They need gardeners and runners and hunters and artists to give them a hand to hold while they seek the questions to their questions, and the questions beyond those. They need the freedom to seek and learn, but also the exposure to those things which will teach them.
My Weekend Chore
“Go feed the chickens, please.” Secret eye roll in response. Procrastination. Finally, dirty bare feet making their way from the door to the far corner of the yard. Table scraps in hand. The scramble of clucking birds. The occasional peck at the toes that their tiny brains think are pieces of old bread. Filling the water. Spilling the water. Filling again. Gathering eggs. A final glance and a small smile at the little beaks tapping the dirt in search of food, before bare feet hit the grass again.
This is not an example written because I loved feeding the chickens every weekend. I was never a huge fan of it, to be honest. It is an example, however, of something I am grateful for. I am grateful for the expectation that I would be outside, following through on my responsibilities, no matter what. I am grateful for parents who made sure I upheld this expectation, along with many others, because it taught me so many more things than I ever could have learned if I had been given endless freedom. It illustrates just how instrumental parents are in the sculpting of a child’s relationship with the outdoors and other living creatures, simply because they hold the power to teach different kinds of lessons. I mean, no matter how old you are, you figure out pretty quickly that when you don’t feed and water a living thing, they don’t last long. These lessons were so impactful mostly because they still were not in the form of direct answers, or I would not have learned quite so much from it. Whether I wanted to do the chore or not, I still was given the opportunity to wonder, without even really knowing it. I had to learn to question the amount of water the container would hold, how to carry as many eggs in my shirt as possible without cracking them. I had to wonder why chickens needed to live in a group, why they needed extra calcium, why their combs turned paler when they weren’t healthy, why, why, why, why…
Always why. It is this simple word, sparked by a foundation in the outdoors, which fuels a lifetime of exploration and a mind of wonder.