The air was fresh and clean. The forest was beautiful – different shades of red, orange, and yellow – on the ground as well as up in the trees. Fall in the Northeast is always spectacular. The leaves transform the wood into a magical mosaic of colors. Even as they fall, they retain their vivid pigments and create a thick colorful carpet that crisps under every footstep. We had been walking for a couple of hours, our eyes and ears, carefully tuned to the sounds of Nature, hoping to perhaps see deer, or partridge. My uncle had decided to stop. As we sat on a log, he whispered to me that animals are always there, we might not see them, but they see us. Curiosity is something that animals also posses. If you stop, stay still for moment, not making a noise, your reverse the dynamic and become the one looked for.
Shortly after his words, two partridges peeked from behind a tree, staring at us. Their curiosity gaining strength, they slowly walked out from their previously perfect camouflaged spot, their heads moving up and down, right to left, trying to size us and wonder who we were. I was amazed and fascinated. I was only a little boy.
I don’t know why I can remember this story has if it had happened yesterday, a simple walk in the forest, 25 years ago. But I do, and I have applied the lesson learned that day every time I am in Nature, whether scuba diving, mountain biking, or simply walking – Stop and they will come to you.
We never know what children will remember as they grow up. It is always fascinating to hear someone talk about a smell, an image, a feeling, a word, they remember when they were young and transformed the way they see the world.
That is why it is so important for parents to create opportunities for children to experience, live, and feel Nature. There is nothing more beautiful than to witness the eyes of a child experiencing the Wild for the first time. There is nothing more rewarding than to see adults become children again as they experience their first Wild Encounter.
Yesterday, two parents took their children out on the water. Neither them, or the children, had experience, and although it would have been easier to get on one of those tourist motor boat, they decided to go kayaking. After a little crash course, off we went. I was only tagging along to take some pictures but soon was reminded of the importance of what was happening. It doesn’t take much to create a sense of adventure. Simply do something you normally don’t and you will soon feel like Captain Kirk saying: “To boldly go where no one has gone before!”
We had just left the beach and already every splash, every shadow was a source of excitement. When that first sea lion appeared, it is as if the world had stopped and a door to a new one had opened. A world where there was no television, no video games, no cell phones, but filled with wonders and richness, where Man is part of Nature, connected to it, born from it.
Back at the shop, everyone was still talking about that moment when a sea lion passed under the kayak, when another poked his head out of the water, when a cormorant flew by, or when a penguin appeared. Those moments are the ones that will be remembered forever. Each will have their own version of what happened that day, and together, their memories will spread through friends and family, making this little adventure eternal.
The goal is not to make every child become a Jacques Cousteau or a David Attenborough, but simply to plant that seed of awareness, to create a connection. Once a child has been touched, he or she will never see the world in the same way.