Just before Christmas, I started scanning the family slides, when I finished my own slides of our kids growing up and various pre-digital life adventures, I started in on my parents slides. They died more than a decade ago, so it was high time to get these images into a digital format. What struck me as I went through my long-ago childhood was how hard they worked to provide outdoor adventures for us.
Each year in the late 1940s and early 1950s, theyd organize a week-long camping trip with another family in the Adirondacks, pack up a humongous amount of gear for the four of us, rent a flat back canoe on Long Lake, and motor out to a campsite on an island. We had a massive canvas tent and all cooking was over a fire. Mom and the other mom would get up earlier than the rest of us, start the fire, fix a pot of percolated coffee (in a blue and white enamel pot), and fix bacon and eggs in an iron skillet. Meanwhile the men would shave at the lashed table between two trees. Wed all eat breakfast and by the time the dishes were cleaned, it was almost time to start lunch. Somehow wed find time for fishing, hiking on and off the island, bird watching, and story telling around the campfire, which was made eerier by the mournful nighttime cries of the loons.
Even though Mom had earned a Masters degree in library science, she was a stay at home mom, which was the standard procedure in those days. She was very active in Girl Scouts, not as a leader, but as a nature consultant. We lived in Stamford CT, and she was known as Kay Nature at Woodlands Day Camp in North Stamford or maybe the next town north. As a librarian, she knew how to find information, so before camp started each summer, shed go out to camp with her field guides to ID all the trees, shrubs, flowers and even the ferns. I was not aware of this when I was a kid, so I assumed that everyone should know all the plants. We shared a laugh decades later, after Id earned my MS in Botany, when she admitted this strategy to me.
We moved to New Orleans from Stamford for a couple of years and then returned to SW Connecticut when we finally bought our first house in Westport. There Mom delved into vegetable gardening and canning. She also had a rock garden on a hillside that had been formed when they cut out a leveled a space for our house. We were the first owners. She said that it was a rock garden for sure because each year there were more rocks.
From brownies through senior scouts I was active in Girl Scouts and went to camp for two weeks in Kent Connecticut for several years. And when I was a junior in high school I was selected to go out to Colorado to the Girl Scout Roundupit was a two-day train ride from Connecticut. What a great experience that was! I even ran into my friends from New Orleans out there.
When I got married and had my own kids, we took them camping and hiking from a very early age, too. For many years we made an annual trek out to Old Rag in Virginia and I have to say it was a huge relief when my daughter (the youngest) was old enough to walk it herself and was not strapped to my back. I was a Girl Scout leader for cadet scouts in 7th and 8th grade for several years when my daughter was a baby to pay back the organization for my good times. Years later, my grand kids have spent many years in 4H including 4H camp and family camping, and so the legacy continues.
So what does this have to do with native plants and wildlife gardens?
I firmly believe that people will work to protect what they know and love. I fear that many of todays children are shielded from nature because of technology and overly busy schedules. I know Im not the first to point this out, but I thought that my personal story might help solidify the idea.
Last Child in the Woods covers the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of todays wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
Even if you dont have young children or grand kids, you can make a difference.
- Volunteer at a local park doing anything, with state and local budgets being strained, your help can free up staff to accomplish more and many parks remain open only because enough volunteers have stepped up. We need these parks in place so there is easy access for local families.
- If you have knowledge of plants, birds and other wildlife offer to be a resource person for local schools, community youth groups, and/or churches.
- Speak out at local community association, county and/or town meetings whenever preservation of open land is discussed. I was appalled a few weeks ago when a small town in central Florida sold a 7.5-acre, lakefront park for $1.25 million. The town commissioners were giddy with the cash windfall and hoped that they could attract a Home Depot, but how shortsighted. When the money has been spent, where will they find more open space for their citizens, particularly their children?
Its up to us to be lobbyists for Mother Nature and tell the other side of the story to those town/county/state elected officials and their staffs. Normally, they only hear from well-paid lobbyists hired by businesses and developers. Read my post, Beyond your garden gate.
In the long run…
My parents died before my divorce, second marriage, and move from Maryland to Floridayes, *things* dont always work out as originally planned. I often wish Mom could see what Im doing these days. I think she would be gratified that all her hard work to instill a love of nature in me is finally being put to good use. I think of myself as an advocate FOR Mother Nature. Are you?
Two more stories of early childhood experiences that have led to adult advocacy.
A few years ago, Steve Woodmansee, the hard-working president of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS), wrote a moving essay about his camping in the Real Florida with his family when he was a kid as part of his annual fundraising letter. He stated, [M]y childhood experiences led me to being part of FNPS, because I believed in the mission before I even knew there was an FNPS. Reflections on the Real Florida.
It is of great concern to me that there is less play in childrens lives today than a generation ago. The hours spent in front of screens have replaced playtime outside school, and too much focus on academics and testing has eroded playtime inside schools. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Matt Damons mother. How to raise a grounded, creative child
And see what Matt is doing with his fame and fortune? Hes trying to save the world! Together, we can solve the water crisis
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