Outdoor Encounters

By Nathan Bolls on December 1, 2022

The gift season is upon us. And what to do with it? I’ve heard counselors argue that we should exercise our hands and arms more and our checkbooks and credit cards less. Hugs and other expressions of love and affection are rather inexpensive and so meaningful if the recipient pauses to think about the event. But recipients can learn. And items handmade and useful never go out of style. Who doesn’t like a something snuggly or a favorite homemade pastry?

But there is another idea whose time has come; an idea more pertinent now than ever before. In fact, essentially essential! We’re all aware that educational gifts for children have been all the rage for years. The question is: education for what!? In this era of an onrushing ecological crisis, fueled mostly by climate change, a special type of education is needed: ecological sensitivity and ecological literacy. Such literacies are gifts that keep on giving. However, in a society attuned to human-centered, ease-seeking lifestyles, even small attempts at teaching ecological literacy will be a tough sell. But we must persevere!

I’m not talking about drumming up biology majors. Rather, my concern is—our concern must be—the need for individuals who know how to live on the crust of our Earth in a way that is sustainable for both our Earth and for our species. For individuals who are willing to become stewards of our Earth instead of ones who take, take, take from Mother Earth and never give anything back.

That’s where we family elders come in; who better than we--with the broad store of both knowledge and process we possess--to ruffle the waters and kick off a much-needed tsunami wave to upset the habitual habits of human gift-giving. To begin, rethink both the basic essentials of the life you want for your grand-children and great-grandchildren and the nature of the gifts you have given in the past. Does some disconnect exist between the nature of gifts given and what will be needed for these children to prepare for and to survive their changing futures?

Instead of material gifts, how about gifts that promote gestures of love—for both girls and boys! How about gifts of exposure to objects, concepts, or places that stimulate an awareness of and sensitivity toward some part of the natural world, toward the ecological realm in which we live and upon which we depend. How about gifting a child with a guided tour of a wildlife preserve or a wildlife rehabilitation center? Some of the rehab sagas the guide likely will share will be fascinating. How about taking your child to a truly wild natural area and just letting she or he roam—with them, of course, always in your field of view. If more to your liking, how about having a leisurely and observant hike along some MLH trails as one lesson? Take him or her fishing but talk also about the majesty of the creatures with which you interact.    

Has the child shown an interest in butterflies, birds, or wildflowers, any sort of organism—or rocks and minerals? An age-appropriate field guide likely exists that would increase understanding. Check into Amazon or mega-bookstores.

Even the very young can find a place in this gift plan. I’m thinking of such as the Caldecott Honor Books The Way to Start a Day, The Desert is Theirs, and Hawk, I’m Your Brother, by Byrd Taylor, and lavishly illustrated by Peter Parnall.    

But, family elders, patience is paramount, as is taking care to move at the child’s pace of mental ponder. Such outings are not a one-shot deal and done. You may not know for years when, or if, some steel corner of your child’s psyche bumped hard enough against some natural outcrop to cause a spark to flash—a spark that started a fire in the brain. I know; it happened to me, at age nine!