“I Noticed Nature Subtly Dictating My Brush Strokes…”

An Essay by Janimarie Lester DeRose

Art in Nature Specialist for Nature Families

I am a clay artist working in Cache Valley, Utah, a beautiful home of farms and marsh land, tucked in the Rocky Mountains.  Recently, I was surprised at how starkly cold the decorated surface of my pottery was. Black and grey silhouettes of birds and tree skeletons graced my forms. It was February and a cold and lingering winter in Utah. I was working daily in the studio, and it was not till I looked back at the photographs from the year that I noticed the extremely strong connection between the seasons and the way I decorated my work. It was as if nature was subtly dictating my brush strokes.

In the spring, my art echoed the marshes that grace Cache Valley. Light blues and chartreuse circles with brush work of birds and reeds, brought a serene quality, full of new life to the pots.

Later, as summer sat heavily upon us, reds and oranges emerged with Red-winged Blackbirds and Poppy’s smothering the surfaces.

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Summer

And as autumn seeped into the mountains, I was drawn to a simplistic branch and berry design, leaving expanses of open space.

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Fall

This new awareness of how deeply my creativity is connected to the natural world’s cycles, has brought me a sense of settled balance and belonging to my home.

Making art in all seasons with our children, or even by ourselves, connects us more deeply to the places we live and the natural cycle of the seasons.  Whether you are an experienced artist or simply playing with art with your children-I hope you enjoy this connection as much as I do.

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Empowering Ourselves to Empower Others-Let’s Get Our Kids OUTSIDE!

-An Essay by Olivia Griset

char lonesome lakeI have long been fascinated with nature education and placed-based learning both in traditional classrooms and also in informal settings; but not until becoming a mother myself and seeing how little our modern child plays outside (new estimates are less than 30 min. a day on average!), have I become dedicated specifically to working on empowering parents and families to become more comfortable spending time outside playing, learning, adventuring, and exploring TOGETHER.  If we raise a generation of kids who never play outside-what possibly could our future hold?  To me, this epidemic of the modern indoor, plugged-in, over-scheduled child, is not an environmental issue it is actually a public health and social justice issue.  As parents are we moderating technology and scheduling unstructured playtime?  Are we getting our kids OUTSIDE?

girls mnt top blueberriesIt is so interesting to me that the place in which we have the power to have the deepest and most enduring impact on children has very little formal attention drawn to it–childrearing. This seems to be a current element of our culture– raising our children, our most difficult, intimidating, and important job, is the thing in which we are least formally educated. Thinking back on the day I brought my first daughter home from the hospital– I would like to say I was totally excited and calm–the truth was–I was terrified. I spent nine months of my pregnancy focused on the process of giving birth (which granted was pretty difficult) but in the end only lasted a few days.  I had not, however, spent one moment reading about or really thinking about what to do with my baby after she actually arrived. The wonderful and kind nurses at the hospital showed us how to bathe her, change her diaper, feed her, and then we were sent on our way-out into this crazy world . We held a new little human that we were now suppose to raise (not screw up) and help meet her full potential so that she would ultimately thrive–Umm-no pressure—right?!! No wonder our first months of parenthood were racked with anxiety! I find it ironic that I spent years being formally trained to teach and care for other people’s children but had no idea really how to care for my own. Luckily, unconditional love is a powerful and forgiving force in families.

Lucy, caleb and knowlton hugsIn our culture caring for our children seems to be something we are seemingly suppose to know how to “do” and when in doubt to just “go with our gut”. All too often however I find my “gut” is perhaps a snap reaction, or a default response based upon past experiences from my childhood. I am not proud to admit it, but not all of these “go with my gut” choices have been good or appropriate reactions. So here is where I question this common practice. I KNOW I can be a better parent then I currently am. I KNOW I can read information, coming from a different background then how I was raised, perhaps more steeped in research and best practice-and that implementing these practices could make me a better Mom. I KNOW I could use clearer language with my children so I could communicate with them in a more age-appropriate manner. I KNOW there are things I need to accept and change about myself before I can really be a great mother.

I want to be a great Mom, it is really important to me, but I KNOW I am not always a great Mom and sometimes I don’t even know how to be a better mother. That is where the learning comes in. As a teacher, I adapted my methods constantly based upon professional development and training opportunities and watching experienced teachers teach-this was how I “honed my craft”. I find that in childrearing there is a HUGE lack of these “professional development” opportunities. For example, if you were not raised going outside, working in a garden, exploring the woods, learning about insects, plants, weather, animals…how can society expect you to not only recognize that outside time is healthy and then feel comfortable enough to take your own children outside? This is a hard ask without community help, education, and support.

juju hikingMy call to action is simple and is this- If you are lucky enough to feel comfortable being an outdoor parent-kindly share that comfort with others who are not. Offer to take kids and families for a hike, or perhaps suggest and then lead a community paddling, biking, or camping trip. Your skills as an outdoor family (that you might take for granted) can offer a transformative nature experience to other families who do not feel so comfortable going outdoors alone. If you have stories of times when this has worked in your community please share them with us! We would love to share your ideas on how to get more families in our own communities outside, feeling more comfortable playing and adventuring TOGETHER! Thanks!

lucy desert jump olivier sunsetlaying in sand

Remembering Why…

Essay by Kyle Koyle

todd biking girlsSometimes I need to remember why I do things. I’m talking about the basics here: eating, breathing, sleeping. Now this isn’t going to be a reminiscent article about the struggles of life. This is an article about its depth. For example, think about the WHY of eating. We all perform this action because at some point during the day we become hungry. Our bodies require food to live. In short, we eat to stay alive. But why? Now this is where my opinion comes in, heavily. I say we eat to enable us the opportunity of what comes next. To keep us going for other less obvious necessities of life: laughter, work, wonder, friendship. From the standpoint of a parent, reasoning the WHY into any situation is parallel with the amount of effort required to make that situation successful.

Recently, my husband and I endeavored to take our three children on the scenic bike path that follows I-70 from Dotserro to Glenn Wood Springs [Colorado]. It’s about 16 miles right along the river and quite literally underneath I-70. This part of the interstate is highly scenic with narrow canyons, white water rapids and towering mountain tops. Now, let me preface the trip with the fact that my eldest child is 8 and a decent bike rider but hasn’t mastered the art of stopping your bike before getting off first, my 2nd child is terrified of riding a bike, and my 3rd child loves doing “tricks” on the back of our bike tag-along trailer — which may or may not involve adding a significant amount of instability to both parent and tag-alonger. In the weeks leading up to our esteemed weekend trip, I estimated 8 skinned knees, 4 skinned elbows, at least 20 random shin bruises, 12 complete melt downs, 3 out of control bike accidents that ended with at least one child in a ditch, about a bazillion inhaled gnats, 1 run in with a group of horses, and last but not least, hearing the phrase “I’m not getting back on!” 15 times. Needless to say, I asked myself more than once, WHY?

My husband and I have nothing to prove to any other family. We don’t seek out painful, impractical situations to put our children through. We thought this bike trip sounded, wait for it……..fun. Now playing video games is fun, having a picnic is fun, swimming is fun, reading is fun, the list can go on and on. Why did we pick biking 16 miles down a winding somewhat precarious bike path? It was not one of life’s basic necessities. Here is the humdinger. How could we get to the other necessities of life without it? Laughter, work, wonder, friendship. Eating doesn’t create the next moment anymore than breathing ensures you’ll get a chance to meet up with an old friend or laugh at joke. If we hadn’t created, with our own blood, sweat and tears, a chance to live, countless moments of living would have been lost.

girls river  char on bog bridge

We live in a society of fear. So many fears. If we only take care of our basic necessities, which I realize is a definite first-world privilege, will we eventually forget to ask the other “why”? Why push yourself, why pull others along, why explore, why learn, why try?

John Muir, the Scottish naturalist, father of the Sierra Club and world renown environmentalist put it very well, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.”

Now is your moment to remember why…

char climbing

 

A Walk in the Winter Woods

An Essay by: Karen Rent

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My day did not start out that great. I woke up feeling tired and unmotivated, definitely not on the right side of the bed. I had various plans, a trip to the library or the rec center, maybe swimming at the YMCA, but none of these things worked out and my kids were driving me batty. So we bundled up for our daily walk a bit earlier than usual. As soon as we stepped outside, I noticed a change in everyone. The cold, fresh air was blowing the frustration away.

We recently moved to Keene, NH. We live in a subdivision at the edge of town and are lucky enough to have woods nearby. With each walk we’ve been venturing further and discovering more about our woods. This walk was particularly memorable.

My kids, my dogs, and I entered the woods via our usual path. We made our way across the frozen pond, cleared of snow by some neighborhood kids for hockey. A birch tree stands in the middle of the pond. Molly and Eli like to duck under its branches and hang out in their “clubhouse”. We hung out there for a while and “made some soup” out of bark and twigs. Molly loves to make soup in the woods. Eli loves to do whatever Molly does. I love to watch and taste their delicious creation.

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Often we stop at the pond but today decided to venture further. As we headed back into the forest, Molly noticed that not just the ground was covered in ice, but the trees too. Everything seemed to shine with a thin layer of ice. My “Frozen” loving daughter was excited. We celebrated by stopping at a frozen puddle to “make some more soup”. As we were stirring up the soup with some sticks, I noticed something through the trees. We walked closer and found the coolest shelter I have ever seen. Holy cow! The shelter was spectacular! Built in the branches of a fallen hemlock and hidden off the trail, I couldn’t help but feel like we were trespassing in someone’s special place. I think Molly and Eli may have felt the same way too because instead of climbing into the enormous shelter, they chose to make their own shelter in another nearby tree, or perhaps they just prefer their birch clubhouse back at the pond. I was so excited! The shelter was really cool, but what made me more excited was the fact that there are others in the neighborhood that love the woods as much as we do.

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Lately I have been worrying a bit about my kids growing up. I want my children to grow up outdoors, and I know we will continue to spend lots of time outside, but what happens when they start spending more time with other kids in the neighborhood? I worry that they will be playing video games at the neighbor’s house instead of roaming the woods, but today’s walk gave me hope. I love the hockey pond. I love the mystery shelter builder. I love knowing that there are others in our neighborhood spending time in our woods. Most of all, I love watching my children learn and grow with each walk that we take together in our woods.

Let the Light Shine

-An Essay for the first day of winter by: Susan Olcott

Here is an excerpt from a blog I wrote five winters ago entitled, “Winter is Hard, Heavy and Slow.”

“In winter, the lightness of being is literally taken away, as you realize when you try to move in all of this gear and feel a bit like you’ve donned one of those Sumo wrestler suits you can put on at a carnival. The spontaneity of things goes away, as you can’t pop in and out of doors with the fluidity of warmer seasons’ constant temperature. There is no grabbing a pair of flip-flops in winter and heading out the door. The physical heft of winter can make you feel the heaviness of daily life in ways that summer frees you from, allowing you to shake off things easily.  Add to that the long, dark afternoons when your Vitamin D levels are critically low and you feel shortchanged by the day length.”

Five years have since passed and I now am the Mother of twin girls who will turn four this January.  While winter is still certainly hard, heavy and slow (often even more so now with juggling boots, snowsuits, mismatched mittens and clumpy socks), my girls have literally shined their light into the dark afternoons.

For most of the year, they are asleep when it is dark, but in winter it is a special treat to go out for walks in the quiet darkness.  We bundle up and bring glow sticks or flashlights.  This time of year, we look at Christmas lights, but other times we search for the moon and the night’s first stars.  These “moon walks” have become a winter tradition for us and have made me look forward to the darkness rather than dread it.  They see such beauty at night, posing poetic questions about the sky like, “I could stick my finger out and poke a hole in the sky to make a star” and, “I think the moon is sleeping under a blanket of clouds.”  How could I not be eager to welcome winter’s darkness with them when these experiences are so rich?  We have recorded these experiences and images through poetry and stories.  Here is an example of a simple book we wrote together about the sky and about our moonwalks.(copy) A new book  If you are interested in this activity, you can download a free app called Book Creator and make books like these with your kids. But, most importantly, get outside on these long, dark afternoons with your children and make it an adventure.  It will bring lightness into your winter.

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The author’s daughters playing on the ice on one of their many winter moon walks.