Flee to the Wilderness
the one within, if you
can find it.
can find it.
- Utah Philips
When I was a child, I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy. I so admired other kids my age who went hiking or climbed trees – did normal outside kid things. I didn’t spend a lot of time playing outside and I certainly didn’t enjoy getting messy. Looking back, I think that was mostly down to environment rather than my own innate dislike of nature - I was that girl who stayed curled up inside, nose in a book.
And yet, some of my most vivid and exuberant memories of childhood are memories of being outside, of engaging with nature in some way. A week spent by the beach with my closest childhood friend, our hands and toes sprinkled with sun and sand, falling heavily into bed each night, full of the excitement of our days. A camping trip with my first boyfriend and his family on the Isle of Mull, canoeing in the sea, sleeping on the rough ground.
This week we visited the seaside at Scarborough and I watched my daughter explore. I watched her dig her feet in the sand, throwing handfuls on me, on her head, on my feet. I watched her dig and bury, roll around and jump. We walked towards the water and she ran ahead, straight into the icy cold froth and onwards until her bloomers were wet. Every time a wave swelled and lolled around her legs she squealed and ran backwards. She threw her bright pink ball and watched it ebb with the water.
And I saw how free she felt. I saw it because I too felt free. Her body reacting and delighting in the beauty of the natural world around her.
There is something so inspiring about watching children unfold within a natural setting, be it seaside, woodland or park. It is hard to deny that their spirits soar and that they seem to relish a connection to the earth that is so obvious and accessible to them.
And when I am with Ava, watching her enjoy the smallest and simplest elements of the earth, I feel a sense of peace, a sense of presentness, that I rarely feel elsewhere. Perhaps this is why I remember those moments in my own childhood easily, because those are the moments I was most in the ‘now’, directly engaging with the beauty and the wildness of the world around me that seemed so primal, so essential. It lends itself well to the glorious feeling of being young and somehow invincible.
Being free to explore the world around us keeps up close to the things that are important and gives our children such a strong sense of their own individual, burgeoning freedom. Never happier than knee deep in water, or covered in mud, Ava keeps me on my toes, reminds me to go outside more, to stand still outside and just breathe. Let go of the day and all the troubles that came with it.
The more time we spend outdoors, the more our home has changed. It has been easier to ‘keep things simple’ by letting the colours and the natural beauty of the outside world influence our own home – from the colour of our walls to the (relatively) clutter free shelves (although my inner book-girl still smarts to see only a couple of hundred books out when there are so many more in boxes in the attic). We decorate according to the seasons instead of traditional holidays and festivities, and the rhythm that has created has been so much more harmonious.
Our Seasons Table is a central point in our living room, surrounding our fireplace where Ava can play with it and change it as much as possible. We have bunches of flowers cut from our garden in as many rooms as possible. Even the toys we buy have been influenced from watching the things Ava truly loves in her own explorations.
As Summer reaches its peak, the days uncomfortably hot, bursting in rain here and there, the promise of Autumn is just around the corner. My favourite season, Autumn is so full of beauty – the sadness of another summer, and all that summer has held, coming to a close, and the excitement of cold nights spent inside, warm from sipping hot chocolates, reading stories, planning our Yule presents.
I imagine leaves dipped in beeswax hanging on our walls. I see vats of butternut squash soup cooking whilst carved pumpkins with candles inside flicker magically on our table. For the first time in my life, it is not hard to want to live connected to the earth around me. I feel happy with myself for spending more time than I ever have before, outside, playing and exploring, even when I have had to force myself to take those initial first steps out the door.
I watch Ava play and I wonder at her ease and confidence with the earth she explores. Is it because children seem to make instant connections to their environment more easily than we as adults do? Because they explore with their whole bodies, without feeling self-conscious, without editing their delight and wonder at the newness of everything? Or is it because children will jump in with both feet without wondering if the water is too cold or if they have fresh clothes waiting for them?
Children seek the world. I know it is part of my job not to stand in the way of that, even when my natural tendency, forged on years of doing the same, is to stay inside, to not get wet, to read about instead of experience. Watching Ava fall in love with one of our treasured spots, revisiting it again and again and finding countless new toys out of the treasures that the earth provides – this is a gift, and one I try hard not to take for granted.
Being in nature makes me feel young - the kind of young that has nothing to do with age - because it makes me feel connected. I breathe in the heady scent of being deep within a wood and I feel full of life – electric life – I feel the current of being alive, and I watch Ava and hope more than anything she always feels that way. That she grows without a care of being messy or mucky, with grazes on her knees and earth in her hair, that she explores fearlessly and with wonder in her heart because she always feels as free as she does now. That she always finds a sanctuary in the beauty of the world around her where she can be, simply, herself.
The earth is what we all have in common - Wendell Berry