What Begins in Nature Lasts a Lifetime: A Personal Reflection

by Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant

DSC07669Outdoor play was the background of my childhood.  Play in our large yard in the 1950’s gave way to exploration of immense town woodlands in the ‘60’s, which morphed into mountaineering in the ‘70’s-90’s, which has slowed-down to hiking and biking these days.  For as long as I can remember, nature has been my teacher, muse and solace.

So when Nature Explore engaged me to interview wonderful people involved with their Certified Classrooms, I was thrilled, and felt a sense of homecoming.  If you’ve read some of my blogs, you’ll understand how honored I’ve felt by connecting with so many truly dedicated and inspirational people. Corinne Carr, who presents to childcare professionals throughout Kansas on the importance of nature for preschool children.  And Sandy, the grandmother inspired by the Certified Nature Explore Classroom at her job, who built a nature playscape in her own backyard for her grandchildren.  And Heather, who, after building a playscape in her back yard, went on to advocate for a Nature Explore Classroom at her church, and at her local school.  People’s lives are transformed through their relationship with Nature Explore, and I’ve been privileged to record their stories.

Recently, while writing blog posts, I’ve been thinking of my own stories in nature- far too many to record.  But more importantly, I’ve been reflecting on how my time in nature has informed who I am- from the early play in my yard, to my outdoor experiences as an adult.  What have I learned?  What would my life have been like had I not had these experiences?

The early lessons learned as an infant and toddler first lying, then moving, then playing on the lawn; are long forgotten.  But I believe that my later sure-footedness in mountaineering began as I negotiated the rocks in the stone-wall and sloping rock garden of my yard.

Ours was a lawn populated by kids, bordered by trees and teeming with squirrels, bugs, birds, worms, and neighborhood dogs (which were rarely leashed back then).  Children learn about animals and about responsibility by caring for family pets.  Yet I remember my early fascination with outdoor animals and insects, (which I either encountered or searched for), growing into a deep respect for all other life forms.

Wanting to know about what I was seeing outdoors, I asked many more questions than my parents could answer.  My questions eventually led to books that could answer them.  Early on, I became the family “reader,” and I remember books about animals, insects, birds, and (later) weather, being in the early mix.  My first career choice, during my elementary school years, was to be a scientist, to study animals.

Back then, we children (and our parents) saw the occasional bee sting and skinned knee as normal byproducts of outdoor explorations.  I learned to be more careful around bees, and that wet rocks are slippery.  More importantly, I learned that explorations in nature carried manageable risks.  Learning how to safely negotiate these risks was the basis for my far more challenging adventures in the mountains of California and New Hampshire, and in everyday life. 

Although I can’t consciously remember most of the very early learning I experienced outdoors, thanks to my association with Nature Explore, I’ve come to realize the profoundly important background those early times in nature have been to my adult life.  Learning, as a toddler, to move confidently over and around uneven surfaces in my yard was foundational to my experiences setting up a tent on 15 feet of spring snow at the crest of the Sierra Mountains. Just as my fascination with animals, insects and other life forms drove me to investigate, explore and learn about the world around me.

Back to the original questions: what lessons have I learned from my early experiences in nature, and how has my life been made different by having learned them? I guess the best answer is that much of the color and texture of my adult experience has been enriched by the foundational learning that was in or inspired by nature.  Reading, hiking, photography, fitness- all have roots in my relationship with nature.  Even a ten-year career in photography, which took me around the world many times, was handed to me based on my love of nature.  So another answer to the questions is that I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without my strong and abiding love of nature.

At Nature Explore, we’ve heard many personal stories about nature transforming lives of children and adults.  Now, we’d like to hear yours.

Do you have stories of how time spent in nature has enriched your life?  Whether your outdoor experiences began during early childhood, or developed later, we’d like to hear of them.

Please tell us your story.