When I was a teenager and it felt that the world was crashing down around me, there was a certain beech tree I would climb for solace. In those limbs I felt safe, protected and I could feel myself calm as I lay in its branches. I learned that nature was a source of comfort: Something I could run to that would accept me no matter what, without judgment, and where I would be embraced unconditionally. I recall a self confidence in nature from an early age. I have many childhood memories of knowing that I needed space and going out for a walk in a wild place. It calmed me. Even as I grew older, whenever I felt unease in a social setting, I knew I could walk out into nature and be myself.
I am one of those people who was born with a love for and an affinity with nature. I also am blessed with strong observation skills and excellent discernment. I joke that my super powers are super vision, super hearing, and super smelling. I notice things in nature that others’ just brush over; I can distinguish all the different plants, I can multi-track my auditory input and I can smell rain coming. These super powers were honed by my mother, my first naturalist mentor. My Mother not only taught me how to observe and identify nature discoveries, she taught me how to love and respect nature. I have many childhood memories of my Mother modeling a caring for the natural world. She taught her children not to pick moss because it is alive; she stopped our car on the side of the highway to move migrating turtles off the road; and she once stopped a road building crew from taking out an old tree by circling her 7 children around it. My Mother also has “Nature ADD” as we jokingly refer to it, meaning that we are both easily distracted by nature observations.
I define Nature Immersion as “unstructured free time in nature resulting in an intimate, deep and personal connection to the natural world”. For those of us of a certain age, unstructured play in nature defined our childhood. It never would have occurred to me that those opportunities for adventure in free exploration of nature, with its high imaginative play, self empowerment and places to escape to, would be denied to this generation of children.
Most modern American children are continuously micromanaged and hovered over and children are inhibited from normal childhood activities and behaviors such as running, climbing, yelling, spinning, hiding, playing with sticks, getting dirty and going barefoot.
Young children today are on a continual merry go round of scheduling, structured activities and transition. They are shuttled around throughout the day, scheduled from the moment they get up until they go to bed. That sense of timelessness that we of a certain age know so well is missing from their activity driven lives. Children today are not experiencing that downtime, the stillness that enables rejuvenation. With so many transitions every day and being constantly on the move, where can today’s child can go when they need to decompress? Where is that place for them that for me was the stillness of those beech tree limbs? And, just as importantly, where are the mentors who will teach them to love and respect all of nature?