on Getting Close

 

I have this memory: I was very young, sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car, her driving. Looking out through the windows like I’d just noticed their transparency, I saw for the first time, I mean really saw, the mountains surrounding us, making up the Rogue Valley in which we lived. Curious and excited, I asked my mom if we could get closer to them. But as our conversation unfolded I learned that they remain a backdrop, a distant landscape meant to be gazed at but not touched. That, with every mile our little car got closer and closer to one, the mountain, through some feat of spiritual energy or tectonic shift, would move a mile farther away. I pictured huge rocks taking giant steps backwards, and a little piece of my own personal mythology settled into place.

It was a dream, of course. But I was young enough and imaginative enough—an only child who spent a lot of time thinking—for the dream to make an impression on me, receding into my subconscious and invisibly shaping the way I moved through the world. You can imagine the epiphanies I had as a young adult when, with groups of friends or even my own mother, I began regularly getting closer to these geologic statues, the facts of my childhood dream slowly morphing into metaphor.

 

When kids spend time in nature, it’s not an either/or relationship that they enter into: not metaphor or fact, not exercise or fun. Kids are great at moving cyclically and in little spontaneous zig-zags through the world—Deleuze and Guattari, French philosophers and writers, called it “rhizomatic”: informed by the creeping rootstalks of the plant world, but to signify methods of learning and knowing that branch off of one another, moving and scaffolding in ways that are anything but linear. By making the outdoors a regular part of children’s lives, you open up entire worlds for them, in which curiosity and science and invention and mythology can thrive and inspire and collaborate. Such dynamic spaces lead to healthier communities–physically, mentally, magically–for everyone involved.

It’s crucial that we dedicate some of our time and energy toward getting kids outside, making ecological literacy and outdoor play more accessible regardless of circumstance—like the barriers created through time, home-life, gender, race, socioeconomic status or native language. Obstacles are part of our contemporary human existence. But like mountains, we can move and shape ourselves around them, fostering intimacy with nature both in our own lives and for those with less privilege. This is how I’ve come to understand equity: getting us all close to the mountain, regardless of where we start.

~Bear

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