From the time I was old enough to remember my mother used to tell the three of us to got outside and play. I’m not saying that we didn’t watch TV or play a friends houses but most of the time we were home together (being military we moved a lot) and mom home schooled all of us through the 8th grade.
Over the years a bond developed between myself and the outdoors. Early on it was place filled with wonder, epic adventure and amazing creatures. I vividly remember standing in the middle of a frozen pond (don’t do that!) and at the front of a bee hive as they buzzed so close I could feel the air move with their wings, catching a toad so big he filled my entire bucket.
Later in high school when we moved to the south, I used to go on several hour walks by myself in our rural neighborhood. I would follow deer paths and listen to the sounds that rose to the forefront in the absence of man-made ones. I learned to be quiet and watch for movement on the ground and in the trees. I was rewarded richly by lizards sunning, birds singing and deer momentarily caught off guard.
This quiet communion with nature would become a life long mission to seek out quiet places and be quiet. In college I studied in graveyards because no one was there and the trees were lovely. My friends and I made a point of finding local natural beaches and claiming them for ourselves.
To this day when I think of Florida, I see a meadow of saw-grass blowing in the breeze, oyster beds sticking up out of the mud and a legion of fiddler crabs scurrying from my feet. I see the cypress rising out of the swamp like a prehistoric icon, spanish moss still in the heat, and alligators resting in the sun, almost smiling. Lime rock roads stretching back into the oaks, wild magnolia grown so tall you can’t see the blossoms.
I wish all children had a safe place to “go outside and play,” not just a back yard but a place to discover, get lost, learn to trust themselves and explore. If we never see a sparrow chase a hawk from its nest, how will we know to be brave? Or watch a snail arduously make his way, that we can overcome. See the single flower in a field and know that difference is what makes us beautiful. If we never touch the world because its dirty, how will we know the richness beneath our feet?