a walk in the woods

On making time for the wild

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of the outdoors. Nature.

We frequent the subject of the natural world somewhat frequently around the blog here—about why we should let our kids play in dirt, why we should take regular screen sabbaths and walk out our front doors, and the like. But i still need to be reminded fairly frequently, it seems. As someone who looks at a screen for work, I have to purposely strap on my shoes and head out, lest I blink and—whoosh, the day’s gone by. All indoors.

Poets and writers and artists have long known the power nature commands over a soul’s well-being. There are countless quotes and soundbites from those smarter than me who’ve grasped the quality of grass between toes. But I sometimes forget.

On this traveling journey of ours, we’ve been in congested, polluted cities, in small villages pregnant with greenspace, and mostly, somewhere in between. A sort-of suburb of a city, where homes boast postage-stamp yards and national parks a short drive away, but with a city center mostly comprised of asphalt and concrete.

monks in trucks

I suppose this is the way many of us live—somewhere in the middle, with manicured playspace just a short drive away, but easy enough to stay indoors and otherwise be none the wiser about the changing seasons.

Our travels have reminded me how much healthier, more fully alive, more the-way-I-should-be I feel when I have plenty of time in the wild. Not just city parks, but woods. Where I can meander off the beaten track but be forced to keep a watchful eye for creepy crawlies. Where water gushes from the earth, not a metal drinking fountain.

finn at the falls

kids in the woods

My kids do better here, too. One of our kiddos has sensory processing disorder (SPD), and his nervous system uncoils and gives his body a breather, wanders alongside his boyish eyes and muscles, granting him a moment’s peace when he selects a stick offered by the wood and carries it in his arms up a hill.

It’s as though we’re somehow made for more skin-to-dirt connection than our modern day world allows, as if our bodies want regular reminders of where it’s from. Like when Wendell Berry says, “The soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest, and under the pavement the soil is dreaming of grass.” I think our bodies dream of earth, too.

“The soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest, and under the pavement the soil is dreaming of grass.” -Wendell Berry

Since becoming more aware of this, Kyle and I have tweaked our trip’s plans a bit to include more time in the natural world. Our sanity benefits. Our entire person—relational, spiritual, physical, mental—breathes a thank you when we consciously make space in our days for quiet (and rowdy) time in the woods. I see this much more clearly, now that we’re wandering the world.

chocolate river

a walk in the woods

So I have a practical question for you, partly because we can’t help but on a trip like this muse over what our life needs more of when we return: how do you carve out time in nature—real nature—in the midst of your everyday life? Not just playgrounds with plastic slides, but the dirty (in the best sense) forests, mountains, lakes, and oceans? (And emphasis on the everyday bit—not just summer vacations or semi-annual camping trips.)

What practical things do you employ to make sure the natural side of you is satisfied?

I’m genuinely curious. Because I know it’s hard unless you live right in the thick of it. Yet I’ve decided it’s essential.

"Wilderness is not a luxury  but a necessity of the human spirit,  as vital to our lives as  water and good bread." -Edward Abbey

(For more depth about the insistence of immersion in the natural world, I highly recommend Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv—it’s one of my favorite parenting books. Even though it’s not about parenting.)

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