You’d do well not you be alarmed and confused with all the vitriol and panic about getting kids ‘nature connected’ these days. You may, like folk i’ve been speaking too; feel a bit underequipped in responding to reports of young people suffering from ‘nature deficit disorder’…
Contrary to what may be becoming a misconception in the popular press… I want to propose that kids don’t have to be in some pristine wilderness to experience nature; nor do mentors need to be thouroughly attuned Bear Grills or Nan Shepherd types to help a child ‘connect’.
Fortunately, many of us 70’s babies remember PLENTY of outdoor time as kids; it was perfectly normal to spend the whole day outside at play; rainy days afforded a bit more time on the Spectrum (a Sinclair ZX128k+2a), or flicking through all 3 TV channels; but generally speaking we engineered our way outside by driving our parents crazy.
It has come to my attention that this is no longer the case in many households and as a response; I wanted to relate a story about a deeply impactful mentoring experience I received whilst at play.[BTW-If you learn/relate better in conjunction with music…. you might want to run this track!]
The front door of my house was on a busy high street; our front door (all red with letterbox, No ’38’, horse-head knocker in brass) had airs of respectability…. the back door was an entirely different world. My ‘wild edge’ started here, beginning at the door that we were ejected through; betwixt & between dog eggs, crumbling dirt and brick walls, dandelions and an old bomb shelter.
‘It extended, radially through networks of friends, foes and strangers territories… walls for climbing, scrambling, jumping up over and from…. man made edges to skirt and sneak and scrump fruit from, hedges for hopping, doors for bobby knocking; places to kick balls, tin cans or each others heads in’.
For a mind/body full of aliveness and vitality there is an atmosphere to objects. From the moss covered concreted-glass wall tops to the snuck-in secretive lair of someones shed; everything has a peculiar quality of sentience to it. It’s all alive. It is. You are. Wherever you are…This is it.
The back lane, between Bridge and Evans Street was the start of a trail… curiosity could not be content to burst impurely from cracks in the bitumin. No, down the back lane and through a hole in the fence and I was ‘out-out’, on the old disused railway line… the rat run. Full of fly tips, flailing limbs and routes to slippery slips; a great place to get muddy. Bordered by a small hummock, overgrown vegetation and trees on either side; it wasn’t the sort of place (I think) many adults went in the 1980’s… except perhaps young lovers, fire-makers or egg collectors.
We played out a lot, my friends and I; alone or in small groups. This was normal, a daily occourance interrupted by inconvieniences like going to school. To have an adult with us was rare and in a sense, that was desirable. Adults busy with strange, adult things; the bridge between worlds would sometimes close by a shout that food was ready or; god forbid… you were late home.
Anyway, I would be six, sensed, sentient, safe, cwched in a small clearing along one of the hummocks running parallel to the human world thank-you-very-much. I would sit and contemplate important things such as the impossible jump down onto the line proper (I landed it most days, assisted by an old discarded mattress to break the fall). From here, the world stretched out to much wilder places… but for now; this story takes place here in my den at the edge of this wildlife corridor in this decaying mining town; the quasi-mythical Kenfig Hill of my childhood minds-eye, before evene facebooke was conceieveth.
One summer-time, for one reason or another, my mother had joined me up there at my den in the hummock. I had shared with her my desire to make a particular ‘camp’; in this place as it had a particularly good clear jump down onto the line. What was vexing me though was that the ‘way in’ had become much more than a small hole duck down and scramble through… it was a track in danger of becoming a right of way that even adults could simply walk through; a mere path. No good.
Then my mother did something wondrous.
Something that until then was not part of the known universe. She produced a peice of string from her pocket and deftly (to my eyes) tied it between two tree branches over the newly formed ‘path’. She then proceeded to fold some ferns and other vegetation over the string and stood back.
She entered the picture again and pushed the vegetation. It swung; the string the fulcrum- the light of the human world ‘out-there’ blinked in and out of focus. My mother had revealed her powers as a sorceress;.
It was a Door.
I can’t , even having gone to the length of reflecting, begin to fathom or convey how fantastic that moment was/is to me. It echoes up and down the circuits of lanes in my brain along with some other stories which i may commit to type. Perhaps your getting a sense of the type of discovery i’m talking about? Are you remembering something right now?
Now, don’t think for a minute that I’m saying you should go out adventuring into perceptual/liminal/geographical edge of your niece or nephews human world and build a string door for them there. The fact is they’re better going off on their own! For me, it was only appropriate in that moment to be met there as I was inquisitively fixated on the issue of the door to my sit-spot; If she’d pulled out some string for her own devices, or got distracted, or blinked or caught up in her own thoughts she would have missed a trick and i probably have blanked it out as yet more weird adult business.
Maybe it was easier for my mum to pay attention; for a start she wasn’t ogling at an iPhone. However, she connected things big style- Perhaps by listening deeply to me obsession with making camp’s over the dinner table, perhaps by her focused attention ‘in the moment’, perhaps by engaging or recalling her own child’s passions and getting into my ‘real world’ or simply by meeting me there and then at ground level. Regardless, she was right there; and my reality was transformed.
This is my story then…
Nature is not ‘somewhere’; it’s everywhere. Particularly when you’re a child. It’s never to late to have a happy childhood!
Let/Get them outside. If it’s a war zone where you live, find a responsibly irresponsible adult who can set up and supervise some unstructured time in Nature.
Simply paying attention and asking open questions when met with a kids excited discovery is a really big deal.
Pay close attention. Don’t underestimate how awesome your creativity and focused attention is to a developing mind when you’re at play in the outdoors.
Listen in to what’s happening in the moment. It really matters.
Happy New Year!