By Chris Morrill, Executive Director
Last month, I took my son on our first successful “hike”. We were up north and visited the Headwaters Reserve. The special old growth area was closed due to a washed-out road, and even the main trail on the northwest side of the reserve was closed after two miles. But we were in no danger of walking that far with him, so that wasn’t a worry. The trail was flat and almost entirely paved featuring a few detours off to the sides.
I was loaded with snacks, and the reserve had plenty of detours to keep his attention. He climbed fences, explored a run-down chicken coop and was fascinated by the rusted equipment from an old mill. He examined enormous rotted stumps, and had the chance to explore a small creek, which gave us the chance to discuss the importance of healthy streams and rivers to steelhead and salmon. We even competed to spot things first. We started by looking for banana slugs, but then we moved on to flowers of various colors, and finished with multiple foot races.
When I asked for his favorite thing from the trip, he said “the forest.” This, even after playing with his cousins that he doesn’t often get to see (which he also enjoyed)! I think on some level he knew how excited that would make me. The walk itself was really fun, and knowing he enjoyed it really made me smile.
It’s a struggle for any kid his size to venture far beyond a parking lot or a playground. He is too big to carry in a backpack and gets bored too easily to do much beyond a trailhead. For those of us who like to get out more, that’s a hard constraint to put on our trips.
For the past couple weeks, I reflected on why we both enjoyed the walk as much as we did. We packed a lot of activity into a few miles. I’m sure the special snacks and the promise of a tasty treat at the end didn’t hurt, but ultimately, I think it’s because I met him where he was.
He decided how far we hiked and what we examined up close. For my part, I did my best to add elements that he would enjoy. In the end, without adding my own expectations, it made both of our experiences better.
I wasn’t pushing him to meet some arbitrary mileage target; he wasn’t whining about how tired he was. It was just fun to be there together.
As people who promote the protection of public lands, we must relate with others from where they are, not where we want them to be. For many of us, we have our own understanding of why these places should be protected and how we like to relate to them. We then foist those ideas and expectations on others. That is both obnoxious and presumptuous. Whether with a four-year old, a birder, a hunter, an urbanite, a Latino farmer, conservationists can often bring too much baggage to the table.
This walk reminded me that we can bring our love and passion to the table, but we can’t expect our audience to enjoy nature in exactly the same way we do. Instead, we must share our love of nature in a way that our companions will enjoy.
Some may enjoy a good meal in a local park or reserve. Others may have more fun glassing for wildlife. You may reach others more effectively by introducing them to car camping.
Just be sure to let them take the lead. Offer things you think they might be interested in but don’t be discouraged if they don’t react the way you want. Nature provides a variety of experiences, and it isn’t our responsibility to decide how or why someone will best connect with it. We know, that when provided the opportunity, everyone will find their own peace and meaning.
I encourage you to search out someone you know who would enjoy a hike or a camping trip this summer. Remember to come to them where they are.
We are working to expand our network of wilderness advocates. Advocates don’t have to simply know the pleasures of solitude and wildness of wilderness areas or the majesty of rushing wild rivers.
Wilderness advocates can come from those who enjoy getting out to their local reserve or camping in established and well-developed campaign grounds. The magic and romance of wilderness areas can touch everyone. Whether you’re working to get a four-year-old out for the first time or rekindling a 74-year-old love of nature, sharing our love of wild places is a small act in ensuring their preservation for generations to come.
Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.