Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale helatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin-flowers. And the frisky ones – inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones – rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
— Mary Oliver
Remember that tree you used to climb, whose arms were perfect nooks of imagination and reprieve? Or picking up rocks to find an entire universe whirling about its microbial business? Making mud pies and chasing streams? I remember building an epic winter fort beneath an old spruce in my backyard with my best friend Anthony Bacon when we were seven. Everything we needed (branchy benches, pine cone telephones, and a snow tunnel labyrinth) was on hand to while away the hours until our mothers called us in. Nature was our companion, provider and caretaker.
Mary Oliver’s poem above, from her Upstream essays, recalls those moments of natural kinship that first tuned us into a relationship with the lifeforms around us. There are handfuls of fantastic statistics, studies, and books that purport the benefits of children playing outdoors: increased imaginations, reduced behavioural issues, enhanced cognition and social development. That information can be found here, here, and here. But we don’t need a study to know how wonderful it is to close our eyes and feel sunshine on our faces, dip our toes into a cold stream, or roll down a grassy hill. For some of us it’s been a while since we’ve basked in the company of our old nature friend. Go outside and remind yourself! And while you’re at it, try introducing a little person to the wonder of the wild world.
We’d love to hear about your childhood stories of nature friendship in the comments below!