I’m no stranger to the immense personality crisis Mother Nature endures throughout an Indiana spring. This year in particular, our entryway has danced between parasols and parkas more times than I can count. Sundays spent chattering on a back porch, kids swinging wildly on a hammock chair, popsicles at the ready. Monday morning? Snow, and a whole lot of it.
And so: this is the time of year in which we wait, with something quite a bit less than patience.
In the past, I’ve fallen trap to the idea that outdoor play is mostly a summer sport, save for a few balmy spring days and October’s last hurrah. Starved for sunshine, we’d all grow giddy with the sprout of bluebells, certain the days ahead would promise hours of long-deserved adventure.
But this was the year of the shift. The year of the shooing, come rain or sleet, weather irrelevant all winter long. This was the year of discovering a cure-all in our own backyard – just the thing to sustain us no matter the month.
This was the year of The Tree.
I’m often asked at Other Goose how to pave the way for nature-obsessed children, and while my very indoor-preferring self never expected to raise two so fond of their turf, I am and I have.
I could tell you tales of leaf boat races and butterfly habitats and failed permaculture experiments. I could bore you to tears with afternoon picnics to the secret pond or an evening money trail with nickels for miles. But if I were to gather everything I know about children and the great outdoors, about fostering a love and respect and responsibility for the world around them, about losing themselves in an imagination greater than our mind can attain, it would be this:
Give them a tree.
Give them one of their own, to share or not. Have them name it. Let them own it, adopt it, care for it. Knock on the trunk, see who lives inside. Paint a picture of it. Paint a picture in it, on it, over it. Let them build beneath. Let them belong to.
Let them lug leftover PVC pipes across the yard, tracking mud and all sorts of chaos through your flowerbeds. Let them re-purpose planks of wood as pulleys and beams. Hide books between craggy limbs, whisper secret codes to enter in. Let them leap and linger. Spit mandarin seeds from the branches. Hang a bee hotel. Lean a welcome sign.
Let them climb. Let them fall. Mostly, let them be.
You’ll find two things: an arresting buoyancy in the souls of your children.
The same in your own, as well.