By: Staci Hansen
I’ve been told by many people that being a grandparent is the best experience ever. My own mother used to tease us and say that if she knew being a grandparent would be such fun, she would have skipped having children and gone straight to having grandchildren. She was as dedicated and wonderful as a grandmother could be, committed to bringing joy to the lives of her grandchildren. As a retired elementary school teacher, she relished in sparking a love for learning in my children (and my sister’s children). She taught them to love reading, math, science, art, music, and NATURE.
One of my children’s favorite things to do with their nana when they were very young was to take a Nature Walk around our neighborhood. It seems simple enough-you take a walk around the block, Nana and grandchild. But it was anything but simple. It would take them an hour, even longer sometimes, to make it around the block. They would stop and study the ants on the sidewalk, or the weeds growing in a flower planter. They would collect twigs and bring them home to proudly share with me. It was a very special time. Not only was my mom building a relationship with her grandchildren, but she was also helping them to build a relationship with the world around them. You see, Mom battled serious illness for her entire tenure as a grandmother. She couldn’t take her grandchildren on long strenuous outdoor adventures. Nonetheless, she was committed to building a love for nature in their early years that would sustain them throughout their lives and inspire them to continue to pursue that connection. Sometimes you just need to be creative and reexamine what you think it takes to build a love for something. You don’t need to journey to the far ends of the earth to experience nature. It’s right outside your door. These simple “Nature Walks” resonated deeply in my children. They remember them with such sweet memories.
My children were still very young when we lost my mom, but the love for this world that she inspired in them has remained at the forefront of their lives, and the memories she left them with have resonated at the core of who they have become. Now adults, my three children find their best days are in open spaces. They love to hike, climb, surf, camp, backpack, you name it. And, more importantly, they’ve become stewards of the land and work actively to protect and preserve our world. They’ve even chosen careers to deepen this connection. My daughter is a biologist studying endangered fish in the Colorado River. My eldest son works with municipalities to design systems to lessen their carbon footprint through water conservation and alternative energy systems. My youngest son is studying microbiology in college and will spend a month this summer volunteering on a research trip with his sister in the Colorado River. Nature connection remains at the forefront of who they are. And it all started with a Nature Walk around the block.
As we approach Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of the legacy my mom left for my children. She was a remarkable woman. Someday if I’m lucky enough to become a grandparent, I hope that I can instill such a love of this planet with my grandchildren. I encourage each of you grandmothers (and grandfathers) to share your love of nature with your grandchildren. Make sure they know how much you value our environment. Teach them why it’s so important to you. You can leave a legacy for your family and our earth simply by sharing what you love. It doesn’t take much, just a little spark of connection between our planet and our next generation.
I think what I’m trying to say is that you can make a difference with the children in your life simply by going outside. Nature connection doesn’t have to come in the form of backcountry adventures. It can be found by picking up a brown dried leaf off the ground. Feel it, examine its lines and wrinkles. Crinkle it. Look up at the tree it fell from. Compare the brown leaf to a green one still hanging on above you. Take a deep breath. Can you smell the tree? Touch its trunk. Feel the roughness of the bark. Do you see birds perched in the tree? Can you see the sunlight shimmering through the branches? Can you hear the wind causing the leaves to rustle? Look down at the ground. Are there gnarled roots that rise to the top of the dirt? Are there ants scurrying along on their daily business? Give the tree a hug if you’d like, and then walk a little further and see what you notice. It’s amazing what you see if you take the time to look. Tell ‘em Nana Sandy sent you.