Spending time in nature with my kids was a high priority for me.
BY CARRIE KRUEGER, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING, THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IN WASHINGTON
Spending time in nature with my kids was a high priority for me. I didn’t grow up outdoorsy, but when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I fell in love with the mountains, trees and rivers. Time on hiking trails and in canoes was life-giving for me, and it was a value I wanted to share with them. When I dreamed of raising a family, I pictured them on cross-country skis or around a campfire.
In the early years of parenthood, I remember a lot of bundling and packing of supplies for even the shortest of hikes. I remember bribes of goldfish and gummy bears. “Just a little bit further and we’ll stop for a snack.” There were sticks turned into magic wands, treasures found along streams, mud that made its way into unimaginable places. There were endless games of I-spy, not infrequent whining and then there were the moments of awe- when wildlife flitted past or light filtered through trees, when a destination was reached or a snowball hit a target (usually the back of another kid’s head). There were countless moments of awe.
But it wasn’t just the awe that kept us heading out into nature. It was also what we left behind – electronics, homework, the endless distractions of everyday life that in many ways simply pull a family apart. In nature it was pretty much just us. Sometimes there were stellar conversations. Often there was just silence. Blessed silence.
My kids were busy with lots of activities ranging from sports to art. But our family togetherness was often in nature. There were big weekend outings – on bikes, in kayaks, on snowshoes. But there were also weeknight dinners at our picnic bench under a dense evergreen that finally came down in a storm, leaving its stump as the perfect throne for games of “King (or Queen) of the mountain.” There were late night drives to view a lunar eclipse and early risings to try stand-up paddle boarding on a flat morning lake. There was a memorable summer-long road trip that included 26 National Parks and Monuments. Always there was us, a family together around nature.
My kids are racing into adulthood, a time when parents wonder which family values will stick. Over a recent holiday break, I left my college-age kids at home for what I assumed would be a day of lounging about, while I went to work. They surprised me by announcing their intention to go hiking. Together. Without me. Even without mom leading the charge and packing the snacks, they were heading for the hills. They delighted me by pinging me all day on social media with pictures of their time together in nature. Dinner that night was full of stories of their adventures on a mountain we climbed together many times.
There are lots of things I would change about how I raised my kids. But I have no regrets about our time in nature. It was worth every blister, every “are we there yet”, every mitten lost somewhere in a snow drift. Nature was the magical glue that held our family together – and still does.