Lately I've been thinking about how lucky we are to be surrounded by a real wealth of parks. For as built up as our region is (and more so all the time), there are a surprising amount of parks, and really good parks at that. But as much as we love nature and being out in it and as much as we are, there are few of the parks that we've actually visited. We have our favorite spots that we end up going back to, but also we just tend to stay home, and head outside our back door. Which is actually pretty great – that we have the space to do that, and because with every time spent outside playing or working or walking we are learning more about where we live and it is becoming more a part of us, and that is the most important of all.
But at any rate, I've been thinking about how little we know of the parks closest to us, and decided to take a go at seeing if I could find any other homeschoolers around here who would like to go on a hike every so often. I figured it could only be good (except for the part of me that would find it so much easier and comfortable to just go it alone...) - we could meet some more homeschooling folks, and have an excuse to get out and explore some more.
Last week was the first hike, and it was a great success. (Insert sigh of relief.) The park we went to has a small river running through it, and after we did our hike, the kids naturally all ended up in the river, and then following D & G's example, climbing up and sliding down the steep, high bank. Standing, talking with the other moms, and watching the kids play, I was feeling really good: the weather was wonderful, we were outside, it felt good to have gotten moving, and the kids were having a blast. We went back the next day, just G & D and me, and walked in the river skipping stones, then inevitably, they ended up back at the steep bank (the “climbing wall”), while I took the chance to try carding some wool a friend had given me. Good times.
The more I think about it, though, the more conflicted I feel. Not about meeting some new families, or the time spent outside & exploring a new place. But about the marks we left behind. The bank was steep, and there wasn't much growing on it (though the second day G did find a few white flowers, I think bloodroot) – it was mostly covered in fallen leaves and sticks and such. But: where they climbed and slid was skimmed down to the bare dirt, in stark contrast to the rest of the bank, and this is what makes me feel so uneasy.
I like to think that we are mindful of nature, mindful of how we interact with it, and respectful of it. Conscious not to go bashing our way through leaving an undue degree of disturbance in our wake. But I'm afraid that's what we did and I feel responsible, having not realized the impact until it was too late.
In the big scheme of things it's really not a big deal, and I wonder if I'm making too much of it. It's not realistic, I don't think, to take kids into the woods and expect them to leave no trace; I think that would be a way to teach them to fear being in nature, piling on the “don'ts”. It was a small patch of the bank and given a bit of time, the bare dirt will be covered with more forest debris. And yet. I've been pondering what to say to D & G when we do go back and they want to visit their climbing hill again. One part of me wants to just let them have at it, knowing their enthusiasm and earnestness – qualities I so want to encourage. Not wanting to have to explain how their fun wasn't really so good for Mother Nature. Yet I can't in good conscience let them keep digging that mark in deeper, well intentioned and innocent though their digging may be.
And so here is yet another line to walk: allowing them the freedom to move and explore and be in nature (and by that freedom to really take it in and have it become a part of themselves – to learn from it and understand it in a whole body way), but also knowing how and when to reign in that freedom with a sense of our responsibility to care for and protect nature, to keep from bashing about and leaving marks that may take time to heal behind us. Or maybe it's more of finding the intersection, working toward that golden space where our need and ability to learn from nature meshes with the responsibility to respect and protect it. (Which is really what we're trying to find in so many areas of our life, come to think of it...)