From the beginning I’ve always been a bit of an outdoor-sy gal. Sure, I’ve gone through phases where going out with friends or making sure my hair kept frizz free took precedent, but generally, at heart, I belong in the wild. Among the sandy shoreline. Amid the forests and grasses. With my hands in the backyard dirt, meticulously admiring and inspecting, caring for and tilling God’s handy work. Having sons has helped me to get out more. They don’t do well inside all day long everyday. I’ve tried video games and movies, but it only “takes” for so long. Eventually, they need to go outside. I’m grateful for them, and as my boys grow older and their interests mature, I want to keep up. They keep me from becoming a hermit crab of a person. We have gone through many nature study books and journals through the years. Worrying that my kids would suffer the dreaded vitamin N (as in Nature) deficiency, making sure “nature” as a curriculum subject was covered and the boxes for animal and taxonomy study checked was a priority. And with all the nature study we’ve done, with excellent references, I still feel like we’ve missed something. We did.
There’s been a reawakening. What does it mean to become a naturalist? What does it mean to “know” the earth? In recently acquiring our MO Wildlife Conservation and Local Nature Center membership cards, as well as joining the local Sierra Club chapter, Chris and I have committed to spending our time outdoors. But we want to commit to more than that. We want to connect to other people while connecting to the world around us. We want to feel comfortable with our place in the environment, and we want the kids to feel at home in this woodsy prairie state too. Getting out and camping and hiking and sharing the beauty of nature with our boys is our favorite. Gardening, composting, conservation, education and mentorship… they all matter. But becoming so comfortable in the biome we are a part of, is bigger. It’s a huge commitment to do things that may feel uncomfortable at first. I’ll need to sit and listen and focus and learn to like my sketches of spiders.
I am well on my way to becoming a Nature Connection Mentor and Wildlife Naturalist. Woohoo! What does that mean? I’m proud to share that I’ll be led to connect and become aware of nature, and in turn, share that experience with others. With kids. The particular program I happen to be working through uses the 8 shields as the principle model. What are the 8 shields? North, South, East, West, NE, SE, NW and SW. These natural orientations represent the 8 chapters in the Book of Nature. All pretty cool stuff. Google Wilderness Coyote Guide to Connecting With Nature if you are interested in learning more… it’s a new field and a really exciting one for moms and anyone who enjoys spending time with kids.
Reading the Book of Nature starts with discovering threads of connection with our natural landscape. First and foremost, becoming a naturalist mentor means becoming a naturalist. I can’t expect anything of my kids I can not do myself. If I am not willing to sit outside and connect with nature for hours on end, how can I ask my kids to do so? Now, I like to get my hands in the dirt as I garden. My husband spends his time outdoors running through forests and biking the trails, while training for races and mudruns. Now it’s time to begin my collections of drawings and leaf prints and to learn to use my field guide like it’s a limb. It’s time to turn to stories of old and remember what it was that helped the Souix Indians survive here in the grasslands of Missouri.
As a Coyote guide, we are not called off to go backwards into nature, to run off into the woods to survive. We are called to become aware. A child, and an adult for that matter, who has spent much of his time being entertained, going to school, playing video games or watching television will not know how to naturally connect with nature. He (or she) needs to get in touch with and trust the outdoor world.
“Connect in an intimate and meaningful way with the natural world and our natural selves… Mentoring is about stretching a person in their awareness, in the use of their senses, search imagery, in their appreciation of where they fit, in their knowledge of self, and in the understanding and telling of their own story within the story of life.” Jon Young
As a mama, who is learning so much myself, we (as a family) straddle the world of experience and science. Without being mentored and inspired, a child of our current culture will not develop sensory awareness on his own, or a sharp intuition, or imprint images into his memory bank without guidance. It’s native, guidance comes from our ancestors. I myself need mentoring and thankfully there are many in my community wanting to do so.
As I go on this journey, in order to share it with my children and hopefully others as well, I am learning that it is necessary to do many things. Finding a sit spot (a place that’s all my own in nature, which I can get to every day), keep a nature journal, and storytelling. These are three of the few necessaries when becoming one with the wilderness. There is a very ancient path that leads this way. I am not doing anything new here… once everyone was a naturalist. The early humans had to forage and learn the ways of the earth to survive.
I don’t know how to teach my children how to love the earth, gardening, camping, just sitting still and blending in with the forest as the world spins around them. I know how to do these things myself, just barely. So I am letting the kids come along with me. And when I read the stories, I make sure I read them aloud because it all begins with stories. I used to love listening to my Psych 101 Professor and BCC tell stories about crime and the statistics in Philly. To this day I have an understanding of when and why crime waves sweep over certain areas during specific times. He told stories. And I learned. We wouldn’t know anything today had not the first Africans, Europeans, Indians, American Indians, and Asians shared stories, fables, wisdom. Well, I like to tell stories about Mother Earth. I am learning some very interesting ones at that. Telling our nature stories will connect us with one another and with the Earth herself.
Thank you for reading. Now I must go outside and play.