Our family tent played a big part of my childhood. It was a big army tent that slept six, and during our camping trips I was introduced to wildlife in Canada, including moose and salmon; shed sheep horns; wild otters in Scotland; the dew of early morning; and the last birds at night while sitting around a campfire. I collected kindling with my three sisters and learned about pure mountain springs.
Camping was a joy for my family, and it instilled a deep connection to nature. But other family traditions from my New Hampshire childhood also added to this connection, including my father’s extensive gardens, my mother’s love of birds and spending most days of the winter on skis. I remember the smell of the peas as we planted them, going on bird walks in the dawn mist, and the sparkle of the sun after an ice storm. Thanks to my parents own connection to nature I feel a reverence for the natural world that has become an underpinning of my adulthood career as a green consumer advocate.
Nature-focused vacations are a thread and tradition that I have carried on with my family. We didn’t do much tent camping, but times change and during my daughter’s childhood my mother had a big rambling house on the Cape with her new husband. While visiting her, my daughter fell in love with the ocean, whales, water birds such as Osprey, and collecting shells. She loves swimming in the sea and will forever think twice about throwing away plastic after seeing a whale calf whose mouth was too tangled in plastic to drink from her mother.
We’ve fed the birds every year of her 19 years and talked about the life around the feeders. We’ve gardened some of the time and composted most of the time. Composting will surely help you see a lot of connections, such as just how much vegetable scraps we throw away every few days (a lot), and how it transforms to topsoil that is as good as gold. We even took care of a friend’s worm bin one summer, and learned it wasn’t bad.
In the end we teach each other how to care for the Earth by offering experience. And from the experiences our children can fold the learning into their lives in their own way. Here are some examples:
· My interest in conservation, which is reflected in my cloth napkin drawer, is akin to my stepfather’s well-cared for tools. He was a conservationist at heart and always bought high-quality goods that he hoped would last more than a lifetime, if well cared for. I haven’t bought a paper napkin in around 20 years.
· My father’s gardening is reflected in our composting and birdfeeders. Both bring life to our yard.
· Our walks to the osprey nest at Cape Cod are reminiscent of my childhood bird walks with my mother.
· We enjoy driving by the farmland my mother helped protect in a conservation easement in the town I grew up in, which is similar to how it feels when someone comes up to us and thanks me for my books on nontoxic living.
· Collecting rocks and seed pods on our travels, and bringing them home, is akin to collections of natural materials from my childhood.
· Our tenting trips to wild areas when I was a child encouraged me to bringing my family to the ocean and taking kayak trips through the marshes and going on whale watches.
· My parent’s dismay at polluted rivers influenced my dismay at pesticide drift and the same pollution, and we talk about it.
· Eating farmers’ market food and joining a CSA is as akin to picking the food from my childhood vegetable garden as I can manage in the much more busy life of the 21st century.
The most meaningful way to connect to nature in ways that fosters a green lifestyle is to pay attention to what draws you and to make the effort. The rewards will come back through your children when they grow up and establish their own nature-focused traditions.