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Attached to the Rest of the World

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

John Muir said that. He said a lot of amazing things and I'm about to control+alt+V some of them below because I couldn't decide which one to start this post with (so I'm picking them all).

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."

"I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news."

"On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death. ... Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights."

"Earth has no sorrow that earth can not heal."

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."

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"Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook maker, however ignorant."

"Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action."

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."

Growing up, our vacations were the road trip kind that landed us anywhere from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Colorado River, mountains, mountains, Sequoias, mountains ... We went fossil digging and National Park exploring in Utah, did a week of National Park exploring in Colorado, spent the week on a ranch in Montana and experienced all of the things that teenage me insisted she despised. Because NATURE is the worst and I just want to be with my friends and hang out at the beach all summer what are you trying to do to me in this minivan ugh.

My parents were nature people and by default, my siblings and I would have to be, too. I hated them for it, of course. I literally kicked and screamed on every vacation. (In every family photo, I look like I'm going to murder my parents. Or whomever it was that took the photo at whatever national park we posed in front of.)

"One day, you'll thank us!" my parents routinely said.

And, because of course, they were right.

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I grew up resisting nature until one day I was a grown-up who found much to her surprise that nature was actually a thing that I craved. Constantly.

I spent my late teens and early twenties traveling and taking road trips up the coast. Hiking daily with my dogs. Exploring areas without cell service. The older I become, the more attached I am to the same great outdoors my parents once forced me into.

Which is why I cling to hope that the following piece published last week in The Guardian is but a cautionary tale.

George Monbeit writes:

In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

The remarkable collapse of children's engagement with nature – which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world – is recorded in Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods," and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s, the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90 percent.

There are several reasons for this collapse: parents' irrational fear of strangers and rational fear of traffic, the destruction of the fortifying commons where previous generations played, the quality of indoor entertainment, the structuring of children's time, the criminalisation of natural play. The great indoors, as a result, has become a far more dangerous place than the diminished world beyond.

We don't get out into nature as much as I would like, but we spend as much time as possible outside, experiencing the city and the many gardens/trails/preserves Los Angeles has to offer. We go to the beach and we swim in the ocean. We hike and we wander and roll down hills. We make soup out of weeds and carry big sticks on our walks. We take the scenic routes even when they take twice as long. (Los Angeles is actually an INCREDIBLE place to live if you love the outdoors.)

And yet, we could be better. And after reading the above article, I realized how badly we need to be better. My kids have never been in the snow, for one. And I have one daughter whose love language is nature — catching crickets in her hands (or flies) and letting them sit on her shoulder and I feel IN MY BONES that she needs to spend as much time as possible OUT and AWAY and in THE MOUNTAINS.

And yet it's hard, right? To make time. Especially for those of us who live in urban areas. Who fall back on screens for entertainment. Who have ACTUAL weather and a temperature that changes. Rain. Snow. Blizzards.

I want my children to FIGHT for nature. To CARE about their planet and the forests and oceans we are murdering every day. I want my city kids to have a relationship with the mountains and the rivers and the canyons. I want my kids to wake up adults having experienced a fossil dig, a petrified forrest, the geysers of Yellowstone and to feel protective of this land in the same way they feel protective of their home, their siblings, their family.

We need to get out more. And it isn't just US as a family but US as a community. We owe it to our children and our planet to build relationships between our earth and our offspring.

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Monbeit ends his piece with the following, which hit me over the head like whoa:

Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection ...

Surely, we can do better — with our children and our/their relationship to nature. I'm certain we can all devote a few hours here and there exploring with our kids in rivers or (gasp!) allow them a little more freedom to explore the rivers on their own.

In order to thrive as a people and a planet, we must establish personal relationships with the trees, the insects, the mountains and each other. We must teach our children to love and connect with nature and the world before we ask them to fight for it.

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