Recently I was asked to be on the Mike Townsend show at KBYU Radio. Mike is a specialist in family relationships, and he wanted to talk about the value of getting our kids outside. I don’t consider myself an expert in child psychology nor do I think I have managed to get my kids outdoors with exceptional frequency. But I have strong feelings about the importance of experiences in nature that shape us from an early age.
When I was young, I had a large grove of trees behind my house where a small creek ran through, and my friends and brothers and I spent countless hours exploring, catching frogs, building forts, and generally getting lost and muddy. I also experienced true wilderness for the first time in my life when I went to the Bennion Boys Ranch in Idaho in the summers of 1977 and 1978, in my early teens. I had never seen anything like the views in the Teton wilderness, and the experience changed me forever. It is hard to put your finger on what such experiences mean or why they are valuable, but I think they teach us something about our own humble place in a much more expansive, beautiful, and sometimes even indifferent universe than the small and often narcissistic worlds we create for ourselves. And although such experiences diminish us, I think we are often relieved to discover there is more to the world than ourselves and that our problems and concerns are so much less significant than we had thought. And then when we combine such feelings with the experience of being loved and of existence itself of being good that often overcome us in the outdoors, I believe we learn something of our true nature. We are nothing in comparison to everything else and yet we are known and loved. One thing I wrote about in my book, Home Waters, that I did not explore in this interview in very much depth is the way in which nature also seems to bring us into closer proximity with those who have passed on. It is a beautiful, sad, and yet healing feeling to know that we might continue to haunt the places on this earth we have come to love so well. I can never look at the mountains or a river bend or the slant of light through the cottonwood trees without thinking of my own mortality, of people and things I have lost, especially my own brother. But I also cannot help but feel joy and hope because of the unwarranted and surprising beauty the world keeps offering to me.
I dedicated my book, Home Waters, to my children because more than anything I wanted them to appreciate what it means to live in beautiful country. I wrote in the dedication, “We live here!” This was somewhat of an inside joke with my children that is relevant to this question of children’s relationship to nature. It may not be the frequency or level of their exposure to wilderness that matters most but the level of their capacity for appreciation. And appreciation can be taught most effectively in everyday contexts. We were coming home from church one Sunday in the early winter, with snow touching the tops of the mountains behind Rock Canyon just east of the Provo Temple. Wisps of clouds hung around the tops of the mountains and the light seemed to make everything alive. I almost yelled, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” The kids were startled and thought maybe something was wrong. In an effort to explain my outburst, I said, “We LIVE here!” So whenever things are especially beautiful, we try to exult a little in the fact of being so lucky to be alive, here and now.
I hope the interview provides some good food for thought. Click the link below to hear it:
This post is cross-posted at my blog, Home Waters, which is found at