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.)

Reading Time:

3 minutes

 

 

 

38 Comments

  1. susan

    Since my daughter has been able to walk, I’ve been taking her outside to get dirty. We live in the suburb that you write of; a park right down the street that’s manicured and plastic with national parks accessible by a short drive. Whenever we go ANYWHERE outside I ask my daughter to explore it. I ask her questions about the ants in the sand on the way to the park, or how the leaves sound as we crunch through the forest, or what the clouds look like as we lie on the grass of a church yard as we tour an unfamiliar city. It’s not always possible to get to a truly rural landscape so I make sure that when we are outside we feel, listen, and look at all that any outdoor location has to offer. Sometimes, all we have to do is take off our shoes to notice how wonderful the park’s manicured grass can feel.
    It also doesn’t hurt to have the grandparents pay for yearly passes to the local botanical garden. 🙂

  2. Margaret

    This is really hard for me, because we live in Phoenix, and I just don’t like the desert. I would love to go exploring in shady woods, streams, or hiking mountain trails. And some of those things are within a couple hours’ drive… but the neighborhood parks with dirt and no shade, and the nasty crawly critters, and the spiky trees all make me just want to hole up inside. I grew up in southern California where things were much more lush. But this post reminds me that this is my kids’ childhood, and just because I don’t love it, doesn’t mean they won’t. I guess I need to give them the chance to grow up loving their desert surroundings… and maybe plan some day trips up north. 🙂

    • Anna M

      Margaret,

      If I may reply, I grew up in the desert of southern NM. I have very fond memories of playing doctor with concoctions of the creosote bush, building tumbleweed forts, prickles and all, and creating adobe houses out of mud–and the blue, blue skies are burned into my soul. My kids now experience growing up in Massachusetts, where seasons change, leaves are all around and snow is abundant in winter. It is very different, but all places have their beauty-although some spots it’s certainly cooler to access at mid-day!

    • Guest

      Your comment struck a chord with me because, like you, the desert would be one of my least favorite terrains. I do think it’s beautiful but not my “ideal”. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in Arizona and has absolutely wonderful childhood memories of playing from dawn to dusk in the desert. Kids have a talent for finding beauty and fun wherever they are. I bet if you let them explore they they will come up with magical memories of their own. And of course trips to other locations are great, too. 🙂

  3. Sarah

    We go to the early service at church, then try to get out for a family hike immediately after church every Sunday. Sometimes we skip the hike for a picnic by the river at a state park or something similar, but we try to make sure we get outdoors. Our three kids are all two and under so the hikes are only a mile or so, but they (and we) love the outdoor time, and I love that they’re building hiking skills for explorations further afield as they grow. When the Army moved us to this state we made a goal of visiting all the state parks before we move – it’s a great way to get us out and exploring for unknown parts of the map (we like Delormes Atlas and Gazetteer state maps). Open up the map , find somewhere green you’ve never been whether it’s a town park or a National Forest, then go ! We also keep it simple and try to respect the kids needs to keep it fun – bring a water bottle, and don’t encroach on mealtime or nap time 🙂

  4. Steph

    My husband and I just spent a weekend away and got to spend a good while hiking in the woods, enjoying all the fall colors. I was more rejuvenated from that than I expected.

    Every day though is much harder, I try to plan true outside time into our weekly rhythm. We are fortunate to have a nature center with lots of trails nearby. We try to get to that often. But more than that, I just try to encourage digging in the dirt, jumping in puddles, and paying attention to what’s around us no matter where we are outdoors. Now when winter comes it gets a bit trickier…

  5. joanna

    I hike a lot. I walk too. We have a lot of trails in our suburb. I have been enjoying it so much lately. Especially the fresh crispy fall air. Once winter hits I will have to push myself to do it. All I need is extra clothes but its easier to stay when its cold. Ive been thinking about this too. Funny when I take my kids to playground then tend to wander off the beaten path.

  6. Tacy Williams Beck

    This is so hard for me! The changing season in TN is sloow, and it seems the summer-ish weather will not end. Thanks for the hearty pat on the back — I need to get back into the outdoorsy stuff I once made so much more time for.

  7. Kristin

    Every day I am more appreciative for where my life has taken me. I amoriginally from the suburbs of Australia but now live in a small village in Switzerland. Here it is normal for a family to spend time in nature. Hiking in the forest on the weekend, school trips to the forest and even forest play groups. My kids school has an annual fall hike where the entire school is out in nature! I see how important it is not just for me to clear my head, but for my children to learn to take risks as well. No Health and Safety assessments in the forest! My kids can now hike real mountains – and I am so grateful for it!

  8. Erica

    My husband and I both work full time and have a 9 month old son and a 1 year old pup. Getting outside daily is difficult, particularly with the sun setting earlier and earlier in the evenings. However, we do make a point of going down to the river where there are great trails to let the pup run wild (she is very obedient) and to explore with our son. He loves to be outside! We have also done several big hikes (7+ miles) through mountains and he is a trooper! Though our daily schedules are tough, we make the most of our time and have become weekend wanderers. 🙂

  9. Dana at Happy Little Lovelies

    I’m so glad you put this tension into words. I’m always talking about having to force myself to get out of the house because it’s just so dang easy to let the hours slip through my fingers as we all sit, sucked into a screen. We live just outside Charlotte, in a neighborhood with a small yard and just down the street from a park with woods. We love and value being close to the city…but the real exploring happens when we leave our town. We’re blessed to just be 1.5-2 hours away from mountains and I’m learning (sloooowly) that a day trip on Saturday is the medicine we need the most sometimes. Last weekend, we met from friends and rented a house in the foothills, in a forest surrounded by creeks. I was shocked that my kids barely mentioned screens the whole time and seemed to come alive outdoors. We took our family to Chimney Rock State Park and spent hours hiking trails to a waterfall and exploring caves. So I guess I’m saying is, it’s not perfect, but living within a quick day trip to that kind of nature is maybe heading in the right direction.

  10. Breanne

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this very subject as winter and the cold weather approaches. We all do so much better after some free time to just wander the woods and beaches (Nova Scotia has many beaches!). The playgrounds are fine but we do better when it’s just free exploring and the sounds of nature.
    At the risk of being over-scheduled, we pencil it into a weekly outing so that we know at least once a week we can get out, explore and be refreshed.

  11. Rebecca

    We’ve found several “pockets” of wilderness in our city that we can walk or take a very short drive to: trails off the side of a cemetery, a spit of state land jutting out into the river that Is accessed by an unobtrusive pull-off on the main street, a rails to trails trail that has side trails, etc. We rarely have the time to take a day hike, but we visit these sites several times a week. We found some of them word of mouth, some of them looking at Google maps set on satellite, and many of them just by exploring.

  12. LiisaR

    We try to do lots of parks/trails that are close to the house during the week — even a walk in the neighborhood gets us out of our yard — and then a day (or afternoon) trip most weekends. We are fortunate to have several great “off the beaten path” places within 30-40 minutes of home, and tons of places an hour or two out that we explore every month or two. Of course, we seem to get out much more when the weather is pleasant, so things taper off a bit in the middle of winter or the heat of summer. We watch the weather forecast like a hawk for those beautiful, milder days in the extreme seasons! 🙂

  13. Anna @ Feminine Adventures

    We live in one of those in-between places, with a medium-sized yard and paved sidewalks. So, we don’t make all that many forays into the real wild. BUT, that doesn’t mean we don’t try to soak in the glories of nature regularly.

    My kids are little still, so we take lots of nature walks and really try to focus on the changing trees and flowers around us. We collect beautiful leaves from the sidewalk and try to figure out what kind they are.

    We’re also blessed with a privacy-fenced backyard, so the kids spend many happy hours digging “mole holes’ in the backyard and helping me play in the garden. It may not be a forest, but for us, it’s a happy start! 🙂

  14. Missy Robinson

    I am passionate about getting my children out and into nature. I am finding it more and more difficult as they get older and there are more “programmed” activities (even outdoor sports don’t count for me) but I still strive. The best for us is heading in to the Smoky Mountains. Here the children can wander, wade and wonder. Hours pass on a blanket or a hike and even at the youngest ages they can collect rocks to throw into a river, gather sticks, observe unique leaves, etc. These days, we get to go for a hike about once a month at best.

    For more regular outdoor time, I encourage daily bike riding, gardening, walking on the greenways, etc. We are so blessed to live in a location that is very “outdoorsy” and the boys also take part in Scouting which includes camping.

    • Missy Robinson

      On a personal note, I run/walk outdoors every day unless it is less than thirty degrees. This helps MY mindset SO much and reinforces the importance of getting outside for everyone. I may be on city streets, but there are lots of trees and sunshine, too!

  15. Caroline Starr Rose

    I’m not always good at variety in this regard, but simply running a few times a week and taking the dog out for the daily stroll really feed me.

    I’m fiercely proud of New Mexico. The beauty here speaks to me like nothing else. The slant of light in the evening, the chamisa that blooms in the fall, the smell of rain in the desert, and always, always our glorious Sandia mountains fill me up, give me perspective on whatever’s got my attention at the moment.

  16. Dona

    We have chosen to live in a place that has accessible wild, because we know how much we need it. Although we live in town, we have ocean in walking distance on one side and mountain hiking trails within a few minutes drive the other way. We also spend a lot of time outside of the house in the yard. I grow a portion of our food and we raise chickens, even our little urban yard remains pretty wild.

  17. Lois

    First I love your pictures! What a great experience for your children to have and so much better than the typical vacations to theme parks and the like.

    I am fortunate in that I live in a semi rural area, I can’t stand living in the cities. My home for the last 25 years was in a small town with lots of green space and a lake. I had land that was only partially cleared for gardens the rest left wild for wildlife. The grandchildren were always in the dirt, or in the water, and had ready access to all the gardening tools. You could find them digging holes, climbing trees, saving insects and tending the gardens.

    I have recently moved and no longer have as many spaces free from human interference but I have a decent piece of land with trees and lots of space for my gardens. So I will see if this property can fill all my nature needs.

  18. Lisa Kent, author of Peace Cottage

    I grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont, and it’s still part of the family. My children are fortunate to have access to land as often as they want. Still, it’s different than when I was young. My mother would push us out of the house and into the woods to play. Now she’s a grandmother, and she doesn’t like when the kids wander off, because of the bears and coyotes and moose. I too have a copy of Last Child in the Woods, and for me, quiet walks in my parents’ woods are a must to keep sane. At our house, my girls have climbing trees and a good-sized back yard. Since they are both voracious readers, it’s my turn to push them outside to play…

  19. GinnyLou

    I love being outside, so it’s not been too hard for me to perpetuate that within my kids. We frequent playgrounds, state parks, and hiking areas–although I do find that much easier now that they’re out of the eating-dirt-and-bugs toddler stage. We also have a nice backyard that, although in a subdivision, has a wooded section for fort building and the like.

    But, my biggest advice (although you do a great job at this already, Tsh!) is to lighten up! Their clothes are going to get dirty. The hair bow will fall out. Knees will get scraped. They’ll probably taste a bug or two. And all of those things are OKAY! We schedule school and we schedule fun and we schedule sports and manufacture enrichment activities. All the time, we are squeezing out opportunity for discovering the world around us. And, the crazy part is–the kids aren’t even any safer! My daughter knocked her 2 front teeth out on her preschool’s playground at 3 years old. But she has yet to be harmed by one of many creatures she’s picked up to examine in the backyard. My son got six stitches in his face from an injury at his daycare water day adventure. But, he has yet to get injured climbing trees (that’s only a matter of time, though, I’m sure!). Letting kids be kids in real natural environments requires not small amount of relinquishing control. But it’s so very worth it–both for them and for my own desperate need to take a deep breath unencumbered by my neurotic thoughts.

    Let’s face it: they’re probably going to break a bone somehow. Isn’t it a cooler story if it happens in the woods somewhere?

  20. gina

    Boy Scouts.
    Monthly campouts all over our state and beyond.

  21. Sharon Holbrook

    We are lucky that we live close to the city, but also have a nature center and woodsy park around the corner. Honestly, my son would go creek walking every day if I let him, and I should probably shoot for at least once a week. But, in general, here’s what we do:

    -walk and bike whenever we can
    -eat on our porch when weather allows
    -join Scouts, which schedules hiking and camping into our calendars
    -feed the birds – seed in winter, hummingbird nectar in summer
    -make sure we have clothing for any weather – rain jackets, rain boots, etc – no easy excuses
    -do all our own yard work

  22. Mama Rachael

    We try to go backpacking once or twice a year… back country… yes, with a 3 year old. He was 18 months the first time we did it. It was great.

    As for everyday, well, its more about being lazy in yard upkeep. But it keeps it a bit more ‘wild’. The back fence is a tangle of vines and small trees (central Texas) and we have a few clumps of live oaks that create small forests — as the little man refers to them. He is welcome to dig where ever, and we have a few odd empty lots around our neighborhood that we can wander into when I’m feeling adventurous enough. And a gravel road that leads to an area that truly feels ‘wild’. Its not, I’m sure its someone’s land, and its got a track, like for a four-wheeler, heading into the area, but for this country-girl-wanna-be and 3 year old, its almost magical.

  23. Ellen

    Our three are grown now, and we worked hard to make time outdoors, a yard that allowed messy play, walks, etc, but the regular camping trips were hands down the greatest thing to help all of us let go of screens and jobs and school and just enjoy the outdoors. It gets really hard as they become teenagers, but it sure is worth the effort!

  24. Lori

    When the weather is nice, like it has been in Georgia for a while, I call regular outdoor days. I set up my blankets on our front lawn with chairs around and call everyone outside. We homeschool, so usually I read to the kids during part of that time and they bring their knitting or other projects. My daughter brings her writing or the kids bring their books. The younger ones go from the blanket to the driveway with bikes, skateboards, science experiments…whatever. It’s totally unstructured.

    I work on a computer as well, and it is all too easy to have days go by where I’m inside all day. By spending some of our days completely outside, I feel we balance that a bit. I make this a priority in spring and fall.

  25. Sarah W.

    Well, the rain is here to stay in Portland. This week I realized we’re all a bit cranky for being indoors more and I also realized we would be outdoors more if the littles had rain gear. We bought one kiddo new boots yesterday and I’m online today to buy some rain pants. It’s so simple, but I often hesitate letting them play outside because–oh, the laundry! (We go to the laundromat right now.) But that’s just silly. I guess our practical thing is clothes that keep us comfy regardless of the weather and continuing our fair weather habit of going outside right after breakfast.

  26. Cred

    Regularly connecting with nature is essential. We felt it where we used to live and why we chose to move. We lived a stone’s throw from a huge lake but in a designated growth area in a commuter community. It once was in touch with nature but had been dramatically altered into a more urban environment. We regularly walked to our lake and the kids and I would soak it all in. Just playing and whiling away at the shore. But we couldn’t be there everyday and the harried nature of this once quaint community was taking an emotion toll.
    Last year we moved to a house just outside a small town in a farming region on a large river/canal system. I love that when I do venture into town for groceries or other errands, that I drive or walk along the river. Our house is situated in a hardwood forest and communing with nature only require I step out my back door. I love that, I crave it- I find calm by just stepping out my door.

  27. Christie Smith

    My husband and I have been in a process of streamlining our camping gear over a period of about 2 years. We sold our smallish camping trailer because even at a smaller size it was still too big for hitting the open rode whenever we get a hankerin’ to go. We purchased a ’89 Volkswagon Westfalia and now are able to head into the woods with our two boys, ages 5 and 9(both homeschooled) whenever we want. And living on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State means there are plenty of places to get away from it all. 🙂

  28. Susanna

    I’ve been saving my email with this post till I had time to read it, and it wasn’t looking like that time would ever come and this morning just as I was about to delete it I thought: I always love her posts. Every time I’m glad I read it. So I made time and I LOVE it. Thanks for sharing with us!

  29. Andrea

    Daily dog walks get the whole family outside… At least to the parc… Regularly. We also have chosen to invest in a small cottage and try to get there 2x a month despite hectic schedules, kids activities… Etc. having the cottage means we sacrifice the bigger house, vacations away and other everyday luxuries… But we benefit and the kids benefit from our little (um… Tiny) home away from home. A disclaimer here- we are not rich but we do both work and we make choices that allow us to actually have the cottage…

  30. Sarah M

    We’ve lived in two very geographical different places as a family–the stark plains of the prairie (Nebraska) and now near the lush forests, mountains and seawater of British Columbia. We have always made outdoor time a priority to our family. It seems easier to do up here, because it’s in every direction. We’re 15 minutes away from the ocean. We’re only an hour’s drive into the mountains, and we’re a park away from trail systems in our community. It *seems* easier out here because there are so many geographical features to explore (and seriously, as a non-native, I see BC as the end-all of wild places exploration! It’s incredible up here) but we checked out every man-made lake, back-country bike trail system and public garden or campus when we were living in Nebraska.
    I think it’s really about just having curiosity to explore new places in your surroundings, and intentionally putting it on the calendar (and not crossing it out for something else!) and going out and seeing the place. Another just small thing we’ve always done that is helpful is take a walk after dinner. It doesn’t have to be long, but it feels so good to get up and move–even if it’s just in the neighborhood.
    Sarah M

  31. Alissa

    This is a lovely question to ponder. As a working parent, I’ve prioritized “outdoor play” when choosing a childcare. My kids go to a preschool that requires rubber boots, rain pants, and rain slicker, so that the weather never deters the kids from their outside time. HOWEVER, this question makes me realize that my older son is significantly lacking in nature time now that he’s in public school. The school playground is outside, but really not nature and when it’s rainy, recess happens inside. Soccer practice is outside, but not in nature. See, something is missing.

    We live within walking distance of several wooded areas, but I think I’ve been accepting NEAR NATURE as being equal to IN NATURE. I’m reading the practical ideas here with great interest.

  32. Becky

    I belong to a meetup group called Family Adventures in Nature that runs several hikes a week in my area (San Diego county ). So once a week I go for a hike at a regular time with a group and it makes it really easy. It is scheduled in just like soccer practice or music lesson would be. I have met tons of nice parents and kids this way and found out about local wild areas.

  33. Jacqui

    We just go. We live in Australia on a small peninsula, surrounded by beaches. It’s a short drive or bike ride to explore the coast. If my kids are getting a little too crazy, we get in the car and go. One time we found a deadly blue ringed octopus, it was amazing!
    We have some other wild places close by but the best are about one hour drive away. So we invite friends to come along with us and spend most of a day out there, in the bush. We have so much fun it is not hard to go more often.
    The other thing that helps is that the property we live on has plenty of trees and a creek. My kids spend a lot of time playing in that creek.
    I really notice a diiference in the contentment levels in our household after we have spent some decent time outdoors.

  34. Kelly

    Ok, so we live in Africa… you would think that means we’re living in nature and roughing it in the bush 24/7. But we live in the capital city (and Tsh, when you get to Uganda, please bring me along to explore the wild places here!!!)… there are NO parks. A few lovely restaurants have play areas for kids. But to really get into the wild you have to travel.

    But I love what someone said about letting a corner of your yard “grow wild”… that is such a simple idea that I could totally help happen here in Uganda! Thanks for bringing this discussion to the table!! My kids are already grateful! And so is my soul.

  35. Emily

    We are so fortunate to have a protected wooded area in our neighborhood. Every day, we walk our dog and let her off leash on the short trail (it’s probably only a tenth of a mile). The walk only lasts twenty minutes at the most, but it refreshes me so. Watching the world through my dog’s eyes–every squirrel, every bird, every flower is a wonder–grounds me in a way that nothing else can.

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