My five year old runs ahead under a cloudless blue sky towing a plastic bag held up like a kite. She’s on her way towards Fish Creek to collect cattail fuzz for a game only she could dream up. Her younger sister toddles along behind me through a blanket of auburn autumn leaves – the same color as her hair. We have rambled along these paths more times than I can count. These unhurried walks make up the rhythm of our life.
In the city of Calgary, wide natural areas have been thoughtfully weaved into the fabric of our city making it possible and easy to access the wild spaces in our own communities. However, when we are time-constrained, ease isn’t the issue. Sometimes, getting outdoors can seem like a hassle. There’s always something else to be done at home or another errand to run in the car.
After much practice, I have figured out a few things to make it easier – with or without kids. Let me share my journey with you.
7 minutes. No matter what your age, there are good, oh-so alluring reasons to stay indoors. In my home, there’s often a kid (or three) who thinks it’s too hot, too cold, too anything to go outside. At first glance, they appear to be physically glued to the floor. During one season of heel-dragging, my husband started the timer on his watch each time we headed outdoors. One day he revealed his strategy: “Seven minutes,” he said. He saw my puzzled look. “Seven minutes outside and they’ll be happy,” he explained. He was right. Seven minutes into our walk an invisible switch went on and they became like puppies let off their leash, discovering a new use for a leaf or a stick, chattering about something they saw or heard. If you can manage through those first difficult moments, I promise that your outdoor time will get better!
Stay closer than you might think. You don’t need to go far to explore the spaces around you. A walk through your neighbourhood to an empty lot with a big tree, or a school field can be a natural space to fall in love with. One cold, grey day, the sidewalk was as far as my kids and I made it. We looked up. There atop a curved lamppost we watched five pigeons trying to land. With no room for the fifth feathered friend, he lost his clawed grip and slid down the pole. Again and again he skittered down the pole before he realized the futility of his efforts, keeping us entertained the whole time.
Keep a nature journal. Although you may not be a writer or an artist it’s still deeply satisfying to record experiences. Consider this: You and your family can record the “firsts” of the year – first yellow leaf you spot, first bloom of a particular flower, first butterfly. Then next year you can compare and start to create your own historical account.
My own relationship with Fish Creek has turned into a desire to know and name the plants and animals I encounter. In his book, the Nature Principle, Richard Louv says “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see.” Keeping sketches and written words in our nature journals means my children and I are building our relationships and creating our own field guides for the community we’re in love with.
Play the minute game. My kids and I like to play the minute game. The goal is to silently and unhurriedly observe all we can around us. The fun is that we set a timer to zero seconds and take turns trying to guess when a minute is over. We have great fun testing our own sense of time, trying to guess closer to 60 seconds each time. It’s a great practice in which we all slow down and train ourselves to deeply observe our surroundings, building a life skill that has broad applications.
“Never be indoors when you can rightly be outdoors.” These simple words, penned a hundred years ago by the educational philosopher, Charlotte Mason, still ring true. They inspire me to venture out with my eyes wide open and expectations awakened to the world around me. Yes, there are days when it’s tough. But we’ve made it a part of our family’s culture and discovered simple ways to explore more and engage with nature.
How about for you? I’d love to know what gets you outdoors. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.