In this day of digital media and virtual reality, I’m so thankful for my opportunity to grow up in the great outdoors. My wish is that every child could find time to unplug and get outside every day like I did as a kid.
I grew up just a few blocks from Salem on Heights Drive. I built tree forts in what is now Kordiak Park. In summer I fished for bullheads in Pecks lake and skated there in the winter. Before the neighborhoods were completed I collected rocks in the fields and in a gravel pit at the end of Upland Crest. My best friend and I sorted the rocks, washed them, cracked them open to see the sparkling interior and sometimes painted the outside with clear fingernail polish to make them shine. When I learned to ride my bike I thought the “hill” going west along Fairway Drive from Upland Crest to Heights Drive was the biggest hill ever! Now I look at it and wonder if it could even be described as a hill at all. The property Salem sits on was an abandon farm, as I recall. There were lots of trees between Upland Crest and the farm field. We picked May flowers in the woods there and put them in May baskets to hang on the neighbors’ doors. There was rarely a day when all the neighborhood kids weren’t outside playing Kick the Can or pick-up baseball.
Without Googling anything, we kids learned at lot about nature. We learned what snakes like to eat. One threw up frog parts on the neighbor’s picnic table! Salamanders found their way into our window wells and we collected them and made homes for them in cardboard boxes. We fed them bugs and worms. If we didn’t keep them damp and in the shade they dried up and died. We weren’t proud of that. In the fall our moms sent us out to collect bouquets of wild flowers and opened milkweed pods. We ironed colorful sumac leaves between pages of waxed paper so we could keep them and decorate for fall.
Meaningful times growing up outdoors prepared me for years of camping, skiing, hiking, gardening and many more activities. There is so much to learn from nature! We will never be without the internet and social media. However, we are beginning to hear more and more voices reminding us that children are healthier physically, mentally and emotionally when they spend time in nature. Time spent in a city park counts just as much as a weekend in the wilderness. Unstructured time can be more valuable than organized time outside. Start exploring your yard, neighborhood and parks. Watch the seasons change in your area. Compare this winter to last winter. Make a chart of the weather every day for a month. Help you children explore. Adults, too, are healthier when they get outside.
From the east windows of my house I can see the St. Croix River. It turns east briefly before heading north again. Last summer I rose early to look at the sun rising behind the river. It taught me one more thing.
There is light at the end of the tunnel! Never give up hope!
Get outside! Have fun!