It seems to me that there’s a lot that can stop kids from spending much time outdoors these days. Games consoles making it hard to have a real sense of wonder when blasting the shit out of something in the latest Halo. TV channels pumping out hours of crap and keeping minds hypnotised into buying the latest teenage barbie pokemon monsters. The amount of time spent doing homework as schools face the pressure of passing ridiculous OFSTED reports. Parental fear of letting kids stray too far.
If we wrap up our kids in protective custody how can we expect them to make a connection to nature and the outdoors?
I’m not a parent so its hard for me to form that much of an opinion on raising children but it doesn’t stop me from having one. I’m not saying it was any different when I was a kid. We certainly had some of these distractions. I know its easy to just plonk your children in front of a screen at the weekend and allow them to waste their day. There was a time many years ago when I would think nothing of wasting an entire Saturday in front of Call of Duty. I snapped out of it and ended up giving away my console. Why spend time shut away in a room exploring an imaginary world when I could go out and experience it for real. I got my time back and felt better for it.
I was walking home from work the other night. Its a walk I take 3-4 times a week as I think you can experience more this way rather than being stuck on a bus. Night was creeping in and there was a sharp winter chill biting at my cheeks. I could smell smoke from a fire in the nearby city farm. I got to the park and made my way round the footpaths. I happened to catch a light moving in the nearby trees and stopped to look over.
There was a young kid wrapped up in winter clothes with a head torch on. He was picking through the fallen leaves and examining them closely like a scientist might exam a new species. He inspected the edges for imperfections, checking the size and then transparency before handing those that made the grade to his mother. She was waiting patiently with a carrier bag as he picked through this pile. I wanted to go over and ask what they had planned for the leaves but didn’t want to intrude on the moment. I smiled to myself as I walked away. The bite of cold air not feeling so cold anymore.
Juxtapose this with a few weeks ago. I was walking through another park in the centre of the city. The nights were lighter then and the place was bustling with people. I’ve sat in this park a few times watching the squirrels hopping around burying their spoils. As I walked along I saw two kids throwing stuff at a squirrel in a tree. Society tells us not to get involved and walk away but I stopped and told them not to throw stuff. They stared at me blankly but I made my point and started to walk away when their Dad appeared from no where and asked why I was scaring his kids.
I pointed out they were scaring the squirrel and it wasn’t great parenting to allow them to throw stuff at animals like that. We got into a short “conversation” which ended with him telling me to “go fuck myself”. I walked away pretty pissed off, wanting to go back and land one on his chin, but violence doesn’t solve situations like that and I figured I’d at least made my point. That and I secretly hoped the squirrel would face plant one of the kids before running off. I got over it after a few hours but I do wonder why I have to share space with people like that.
I read about eco-therapy a few months ago, the idea of prolonged periods of exposure to the outdoors and how this exposure to nature can improve your well-being. Whether it be time in the mountains or hills, a walk in the park, a bike ride or even just a few hours in the garden. That deep sense of connection and awareness of plants, animals and the landscape can lead you to open up and think more about the existence of things beyond you.
Michael Cohen suggests that nature offers a different civilisation from human culture. The earth offers wisdom and beauty as opposed to the general insanity of the human race. Nature is willing to share its magic while we continue to spoil and pollute anything of any value. He writes “the natural world produces no garbage. On a macro level, everything is valued, nothing is discarded or unwanted and that defines unconditional love in action…we, as part of life, inherit the natural worlds integrity as our inner nature, a profound, globally shared creation blueprint which too often we, demeaningly call the little child within us”
Modern life sees us sleeping in buildings which isolate us from the earth more. With the internet and mobile communication we have electrons flying through the air. They couldn’t make us more disconnected from ourselves but strangely keep us connected.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this post to be honest. I had an idea but it escapes me. A strand. A point. But its gone. Maybe I’ll go outside for a walk and breath in some fresh air. Let the winter chill in for a bit. Get the blood moving. Look into the sky at the stars shining like tiny pearls.
One day I’ll find myself staring out into the black openness from my cabin in the mountains. Away from the idiots intent on spoiling this world. Away from the suffocation of a city. Enjoying the silence and space that nature can offer.