“At a time when humanity seems intent on swallowing Earth whole, it seems to this concerned mother that to stop the destruction of nature, we need the world to fall in love with her.” – Pat Ravasio
My daughter was on a twilight hunt for a suitable marshmallow stick when she heard a throaty croak. She reached down to pick up what she thought was a giant plastic frog, the kind that greet all who enter the Rainforest store at the mall. When she instead grasped, in both hands, a squishy, slimy, writhing creature the size of a small boulder, she let out the most blood curdling scream we had ever heard.
“Holy crap, a bear?” said Bob. I had the same thought, since earlier that week a black bear cub had scampered off with our only bag of dog food. We leapt up and ran through to the woods to find eight-year-old Michaela, her head turned skyward, still howling, now in fits of laughter. “I thought it was a plastic one!” she squealed. The girls caught the massive thing and declared it the most awesome creature. Better than the snakes, lizards, geckos, or even pet rat at home. They convinced us to keep him overnight for observation, like good scientists would.
Of many lessons learned from the toad, here are three: 1) Amazing things exist in nature, even better than at the mall. 2) Be careful what you grab for; things are not always what they seem, and 3) If you scream horrifically, your entire family will come running.
Sharing such moments together is family superglue. So we did it often. Every summer, we car camped for at least a week or two at almost every park within driving distance: Point Reyes National Seashore, right outside our door, at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Yosemite National Parknearly every year, where we even conquered Half Dome. Near Mt. Shasta on the McCloud River, where the girls jumped off thirty-foot waterfalls into spectacular river pools.
At Mt. Lassen in Lassen Volcanic National Park, the girls played ‘king of the log’ for days on end in a sparkling Alpine Lake across from our tent. We camped near Mammoth Lake and spent days at Hot Creek. This may have been our favourite spot ever, since Bob could fish up steam in an amazing trout habitat, while the rest of us melted our sibling rivalries away in warm waters. (Hot Creek is closed now. It got too hot, but there are many other places to soak in Earth’s warmed waters.)
In the High Sierra, we hiked from camp to camp for five days, mule trains carrying provisions ahead on the trail for spectacular dinners, such as halibut to be steamed in paper bags. The chefs from the Ahwahnee Hotel created the menus, so the lesson here was how luxurious the wilderness can be. The first time we saw the vast natural granite water slides the size of football fields, sprawled out sun scorched boulders, and meteor showers at the 11,000 foot elevation Vogelsang camp, we knew we’d found a bargain at any price.
Every adventure taught lessons, like the importance of good preparation: Inflatable air mattresses and real pillows made a big difference, as did fresh produce and local fish we enjoyed on the grill. Our favorite creature comfort was the solar shower we set up on the roof of the car. We enjoyed steaming hot showers while watching the sun go down.
More than anything, camping gives everyone time to kill. We spent it reading, drawing, painting, playing cards, cooking, catching lizards, and wading through whatever water was nearby. The girls entertained themselves with more companionship, and less stuff. They learned what to do, and not to do, with boredom. They learned resilience. And they always went home with newfound appreciation for comforts they’d taken for granted.
Mother Nature has some even bigger lessons in mind for children.
Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) said it best: “Nature is the ultimate instructor.” Bucky, as he was known to all, warned that humanity’s survival depended on our connection with nature. “If we can’t adhere to nature’s principles, she has other options,” said the man known to the world as ‘the Leonardo da Vinci of the twentieth century’. Bucky called for an ‘Anticipatory Design Science Revolution’, using nature’s own principles, which he claims to have uncovered in 1929. This would allow us to create a new clean energy world that would work for all living things, without harm to the environment.
Connection to nature is not something you can learn. It is something you do, and it takes time. Repetitive exposure, especially as a child, to miraculous natural sights, sounds and feelings carves pathways in the brain which crave more and more of the same. In other words, you fall in love with nature, and you can’t get enough. This puts them in touch with their own deeper nature. It doesn’t even have to happen anywhere special: A single tree in a park can show you how leaves dance in the wind. A city fire escape can still let you bloom under the stars.
At Trinity that night, the campfire downshifted into marshmallow mode. All three daughters sat in their camp chairs with sticks in hand, waiting for me to open the bag, when I realized another excellent benefit of camping with the kids: You are in full control. Since their normal material life is stripped bare, and you have full possession of the food, the little buggers have nowhere else to turn. As teenagers they may look back and realize how often you held them hostage, but later on, as adults, they’ll hike with you and tell you their childhoods in nature were blessed.
Pat Ravasio with daughter (and Hipcamp Founder/CEO) Alyssa Ravasio
So while you are planning your summer fun, don’t forget that your children need to be able to sit quietly and happily, on the gentle stream of their own consciousness. You might create people with such deeply intuitive understanding of nature that they will grow up and do things to help save the world.
At a time when humanity seems intent on swallowing Earth whole, it seems, at least to this concerned mother, that in order to stop the destruction of nature, we need to make sure the whole world falls in love with her.
Whether you do it for your family or for humanity, do it. Get out there in the wild and enjoy the far reaches of nature. Raise your children as free range, even feral creatures. And remember always something else Bucky said. “Our children are our elders in Universe time. We are privileged to see a new world through their eyes.”
By the way, the giant toad did not make it through the night. A giant scrape of a paw print was all that was left in the sand at the bottom of the poor guy’s container the next morning. One more lesson learned: Don’t mess with Mother Nature.
Children soak up everything. Choose carefully. Make sure they grow to love that greatest mother of all mothers.
Words by Pat Ravasio. Pat is an aspiring author, environmental activist, meditation enthusiast and mother of three grown nature lovers (including Hipcamp founder Alyssa). Find her blog, devoted to the genius Buckminster Fuller, at www.buckyworld.me
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