Do you carry a special outdoor place in your heart?

snowshoeing on the lake
© K Martinko -- Out for a snowshoe on my beloved lake

Often our experiences in nature as children have a profound and long-lasting effect, creating wonderful memories that stay with us for years.

Stop for a moment to think about your childhood. If you were to recall a single special place that evokes happy, comfortable, safe memories, what would it be? Where is it? What did you love about it?

Very often, those special places preserved in one’s memory of childhood are outdoors. There’s something about Nature that draws children in, fills them with wonder, and entertains them for hours on end (if parents allow it). Nature can have a profound and long-lasting effect on children, and those memories stay with them for the rest of their lives. I know they did for me.

When I stop to think about my childhood, I always think about the lake in front of my parents’ home. I grew up in Muskoka, a popular ‘cottage country’ region of Ontario that is famous for its pine trees, granite outcroppings, and clean lakes. Since my family were the only year-round residents on our lake – all the cottagers returned to the city from September until June – I always thought of the lake as my own. I knew it intimately, through all its seasonal manifestations.

In the fall, I paddled my canoe along the shoreline, watching the forest leaves turn fiery red, orange, and gold, reflected on the still surface of the cooling water. In winter, if we were lucky, a combination of frigid temperatures and little snow would turn the whole lake into a glass skating rink, but most years I had to use snowshoes or cross-country skies to get my exercise. Sometimes I would lie on the ice at night, watching the northern lights. In spring, I fell asleep to a chorus of spring peepers and bullfrogs, always waiting excitedly for the first loon call. In summer, I swam and played in the water with my siblings, floating on inner tubes, jumping off rafts, diving for rocks, skinny-dipping at night.

That lake became an integral part of me. It’s where I escaped to when I argued with my parents, when I felt sad or excited, when I needed to get out of the house and into the fresh air. When I left home at 16, I missed the lake more than my family, and the dock was the first place I ran to when I returned home after a year abroad.

All of this is to say, let your children create those memories. If you are a parent, don’t let fear of the outdoors, of what could happen to your children, prevent them from spending time outside and forging deeply personal bonds with special places that you might not even know about. Children must be allowed time and space to roam outside if they’re going to develop special places in their hearts that they will then carry with them forever.

I’ll carry my lake inside me until the day I die. Even though I love the place I live now, it can never be as intensely precious and magical as the lake, which I perceived and experienced as a child.

This new place, however, will be just as special for my own children, and that’s a wonderful thought. It’s my main motivation for getting outside every day to spend time together, planting that seed of love for nature that will spur them to explore it on their own once they’re old enough.

[Thanks to Rain or Shine Mamma's blog for inspiring a post on this subject.]

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