Nature as Birthright

We returned yesterday from our annual trip to West Virginia, and though it’s nice to come home– to my own bed, to my own kitchen, to my own routine, it’s always sad to leave some things in the Mountain State behind. This trip was particularly wonderful. I spent lots of time with my Grandma, saw several friends and family members, documented part of the trip for the Travelin’ Appalachians Revue Instagram, found some great primary sources for my novel, and learned a lot about my hometown from the local historical society. For my children, it was wonderful because of the time they spent outside.

I’ve heard a lot about “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. In my training as a Tinkergarten leader, I learned something jarring– children in my generation spent an average of 30 minutes outside per day (even this seems shockingly low to me). Children now spend an average of nine. My children spend time in our yard and in parks. We go on hikes. But there is something totally different about just being in the real, undeveloped, unmanicured, untamed wilderness– of having time to explore and take risks and discover. And watching my children do those things in the same place that I did as a child was so moving. It’s their birthright, I realized. To climb vines and throw sticks on this same piece of land that their mom and their grandpa did.

Of course this gets into issues of land appropriation from native people. My part of West Virginia belonged to the Mound People first, and then to other native tribes. A book published in 1907 about my county’s history claims that these tribes actually left before it was resettled by white settlers, which does make me feel a little better if it’s true, but I still want to be clear that I don’t believe in manifest destiny when I talk about a birthright. Rather, it’s everyone’s birthright to spend time in the wild, particularly in the place where their ancestors did the same. In fact, that’s part of why the theft of homeland is such an atrocity. Land and home and place are such a part of us– integrated into our consciousness and DNA the same way trauma can be. If I visited the village in the Ukraine where some of my ancestors lived, I think a part of me would recognize it, would sing “Yes! This place is a part of you.” I think it’s why so many people feel that draw– to return to their ancestral lands.

So we’ll keep going back, keep intentionally giving them this time, this place.

Did you have unstructured play in the wilderness as a kid? What did you learn? How do you feel about it now?

One comment

  1. In Scotland I had a real and true “hair-rasing” experience. As the tour bus was climbing a mountain road the hairs on my arms stood up and I felt “overtaken” by recongition of the place. I didn’t know where the bus was and we had a distance to go before our next stop. When we topped the hill, a village lay in the arms of the mountains. I asked where we were and what happened at this spot. It was a town where the Campells slaughtered the McDonallds, Glen Coe. My grandfather’s middle name was Cambpell and the site is one none for its infamy.w

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