A woman holds a baby and smiles at the camera as they walk through the woods; a white dog stands on a dirt trail in the background.
Mt. Hood hike Family hike in the Mt. Hood National Forest © Adam Amato/TNC

Stories in Oregon

As a New Parent, Nature Provides the Perfect Playground

Nature gave us the setting, and our bond grew from there.

By Julia Amato

Everyone told me “everything changes when you have a child.”

When my daughter Lillian was born just over a year ago, I learned just how right they were. About your Google searches. Your conversations. Your sleep. Your meal times. Your social life…sorry to ghost you, friends.

One thing I didn’t expect to change was my perception of nature.

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I grew up spending long days outside, studied biology in college and have worked in conservation for over a decade. Nature is an integral part of who I am. But, experiencing nature with an infant has opened a whole new world for me. 

Julia Amato holds her baby and they both smile at the camera as they stand next to a rushing stream in a forest.
Zig Zag River Hike Enjoying the summer sun and the Zig Zag River. © Adam Amato

Instead of trekking quickly through the forest, hiking now consists of stopping to examine the small things. We get up close and personal with a tree’s bark or a cactus’ needles. We kneel down to Lillian’s eye level and look closer at every leaf, rock and insect that crosses our path.

Quote: Julia Amato

You might say Lillian has helped me form a deeper connection with all that nature gives us.

A leaf is now an interstate of connected veins transporting nutrients for a tree. A patch of moss is really a bed of fine, fuzzy green hairs moistened with fairy-sized water droplets. And, holy smokes, there’s a thriving miniature village residing under every rock! It’s truly incredible. 

You might say Lillian has helped me form a deeper connection with all that nature gives us. And nature has done the same for her and I. Exploring nature with Lillian in my arms or on my back brings us closer together. Seeing her eyes light up when she spots a bird or feeling her body calm when we step outside helps me understand her personality as it reveals itself. 

Two side-by-side photos of a baby sitting in front of a field of lavender; in the left photo the baby is holding a sprig of lavender; in the right photo the baby is chewing on a sprig of lavender.
Infant exploring nature Lillian says lavender not only smells amazing, it tastes good too. © Julia Amato/TNC

Now that my future includes my daughter’s future, I’ve become fiercely protective of it. Like mama bear protective. 

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I know that in order for Lillian to explore these same forests or to swim these same lakes and rivers when she’s an adult, we must protect them now. When I think about this possibly not being an option for her in the future or think about her having to stay inside because of poor air quality, my mama bear instincts surface. I will do all that I can to ensure that doesn’t happen. To steal a quote from a sign I saw at the March for Science, “There is no ‘Planet B.’” 

Please join me in being fiercely protective of our future. Whether that’s taking the time to learn something new about our environment every month, volunteering your time, taking political action or financially supporting our work, every bit helps. Lillian and I both say thanks. 

View looking into a dense forest of tall, thin trees.
Trail at Cascade Head Forest located on the Conservancy's Cascade Head Preserve in North Lincoln City, Oregon. © Devan King/TNC