Navigating Nature

Building driftwood forts and wandering Whidbey Island circa 1968.  Photo: Edwards family album

Building driftwood forts and wandering Whidbey Island circa 1968. Photo: Edwards family album

“Go outside…it’s a nice day.” My mom’s constant refrain rang throughout my formative years. Now possibly she just wanted me out from underfoot, but more likely she intuitively believed what official studies have since proven: children who develop a connection with nature are more resilient, confident, and better able to handle life when conditions get rocky.

Today, in response to growing awareness of a gulf between children and their connection with—and comfort in—the great outdoors, more and more states are adopting their version of a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. These official resolutions affirm the rights of kids—and their families—to get outside, explore, take a few risks, and discover nature. It turns out, learning to ride a bike, pick and eat a fruit or vegetable, sleep under the stars, climb a tree, and play in the mud is serious business.

Hiking, camping, and making mischief in the 70s.  Photo: Forkner family album

Hiking, camping, and making mischief in the 70s. Photo: Forkner family album

In navigating the wild, or at least the less tame, we encounter the unknown, come face to face with mystery, and challenge our bodies in very different ways than our comfortable, wired, climate-controlled indoor environments ask of us. And the need for nature—what author Richard Louv calls vitamin N—does not diminish as we accumulate years. If anything, our technology-driven world requires greater doses of nature to establish a balanced life.

As gardeners, every time we encounter a plant that’s new to us, whether in the wild or on a nursery shelf, we get a peek at the enormity of nature. Mystery abounds in even the tamest landscape. Why did caterpillars decimate my currant plant this year and not last? The more I learn about soil, insects—the good and the not-so-good—our changing climate, and how I impact my surroundings, the more I am aware of how much more I have yet to grasp. While the beauty of nature inspires awe, my garden keeps me humble.

Our West Coast is abundantly rich in beauty and natural wonders. Our mild climate practically ensures that every day is “a nice day.” It’s summer. Go outside and play. And take a child along for the adventure.