Saturday, January 05, 2008

Early Outdoor Memories

It was a perfect, quiet day, and the kids are skiing down the mountain – and they’ve got their headphones on. They can’t enjoy just hearing nature and being out there alone. They can’t make their own entertainment. They have to bring something with them”
- Richard Louv, in “The Last Child in the Woods” quoting a parent describing a recent ski trip with teenage children.

I’m reading “The Last Child in the Woods” which “explores the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change”. The author says that Baby Boomers (born 1946 and 1964) “may constitute the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water”. Here's me and the kid, communing with nature a few years ago. Ok, many years ago.

Before he gets to analysis and recommendations, he describes the richness of his own childhood, and his earliest memories of using his senses and “sensing wonder” which I think is Rachel Carson’s phrase.

It made me try to recall my earliest memories of the great outdoors. I think it must be rolling through the grass down an enormous hill in my front yard. Visiting the neighborhood years later, I was amazed to find that the hill is shorter and less steep than a flight of stairs. It must be about 4 feet long, on an incline that requires more than gravity to roll to the bottom. But it was Soooo big back then! I’m sure it was originally almost a hundred miles long, and steeper than mountains.

For me though, the sense of smell is my strongest connection to early childhood memories, and seeing blogger pictures of snow, I'm remembering the snows of my childhood. The closest I get these days to the snows of yesteryear is the realization that a killing freeze murdered my coleus - whose skeletons you can see in this picture.

I remember the smell of a smoke from chimneys when we were out in the snow. I remember the smell of melting, drying snow suits hanging in the basement laundry room after we came in from the snow. As everyone knows, puddles of melting snow beneath the basement clothes line smell different than puddles of regular water. I remember the earthy smell of wool scarves wound around my neck to cover your nose and mouth, after the scarves got caked in snow from snowballs my very accurate big brother threw.

What a shame if the generation of kids out skiing or sledding somewhere today will, years from now, associate nature with the play list they made for their iPod. What’s your earliest memory of using your senses out of doors?


Garden Wise Guy said...

Very insightful observation and one that has crossed my mind so many times. I feel that adding the headphones just becomes the soundtrack to the not quite real movie so many people imagine themselves in.

Another curiosity is the people who spend their travels with camera affixed 24-7, looking for that great photo, but never really get to "be here now." I now limit myself to no more than a dozen photos, just so I get bit of a memory boost years later and relive the moments away.

BTW: I've added your link to my pleasure to share.

kate said...

I remember clearly the sound of snow crunching underfoot and the smell of wet woollen mittens sizzling on hot-water radiators.

One of the differences between growing up forty years ago and now is that children were sent out to play ... it didn't matter if it was freezing cold. We wanted to be outside.

And then there were the camping trips every summer. That isn't such a common thing anymore.

Your pic with child is beautiful.

Martha in Michigan said...

Gorgeous photo of you and the kid. Hard to recall how hot we once were.;-) I have a similar treasured photo of me holding baby L as she meets the ocean (well, the Gulf of Mexico, anyway). I ought to scan some of my favorites into digital form.

As to earliest outdoor memories, mine are also from the place with the huge hill, but all of animals and all in the backyard. Two come from retrieving milk from the milk box there: my first sights of a chipmunk and of a red cardinal blazing against a snowy background. The third is the Thanksgiving spectacle of Mr. Sanders's turkeys literally running around with their heads cut off and then hanging from the swingset for their blood to drain. Never felt good about that swingset again....

Of course, they are now memories of memories, as I can no longer recall them with direct immediacy.

The wet wool smell joins that of burning leaves as something I no longer experience. How long before the smell of fireplace smoke outdoors is equally a thing of the past?

MrBrownThumb said...

My earliest memory of the great outdoors has to be going on a fishing trips with a lot of people from our church.

One kid fell in the river and busted his knee standing down stream and watching the water turn read around my feet was pretty creepy and something that's stayed with me all these years.

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