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Last Children in the Woods

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I don't have anything pithy to say about getting your children into the woods: why it's the best thing you can do for them. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about connecting with nature. If anything, I have a problem connecting with the constructs of man: organized sports, organized religion; the purported delights of urban living. I guess I'm a bit of an extremist, always leaning into nature and away from the trappings and constructs of humanity. But that doesn't mean our kids are. It's always a struggle, however gentle, to tease them away from the gadgets that blink and yawp and hum and get them out into the wild. Once that little struggle is over, the real living takes over.

To get their shoes off

To consider the mushroom.

To look for the larkspur

and greet the shy forget-me-not.

To dive into unstructured play, with nothing more than rocks and flowing water

and bluejeans wet to the thigh

while Daddy sleeps away a hard dawn's birding in the car.

To become Captain Underpants, if just for an hour

To watch the last light paint a ridgetop

to pee in the road, and find your jammies waiting in a bag in the back seat

To spend a day in nature, untroubled, unstructured, unconstructed. That's real living.


Poetic words, poetic images; I couldn't wish for more for my little ones.

"I don't have anything pithy to say about getting your children into the woods..."

actually, I'm guessin' you have a LOT to say -- might even be a short book lurking there...

Again, won't you consider adopting all of us? :c)

Beautiful tribute to nature and the unstructured playfulness it brings out in all of us. Your children are very lucky to have such a wise Mom.

Just got the most recent edition of BWD in the mail, looking forward to reading your article on this very subject.

Love the photos in this post of your young'uns enjoying being unplugged. Delightful.

Everyone thinks you have to go to Disney World or some theme park and spend more money than it's worth or you can afford. When, for the cost of a tent and a cooler, a couple of sleeping bags etc. or even just a day can find a stream or St Park and have a great time.

Growing up in the wild countryside was, I think, one of the best gifts my parents gave their children. We had a tv but only got broadcast, and rarely watched it; we finally got a Nintendo only after they'd been around for a few years, and even then we only played it sporadically. We spent most of our time outdoors, making up our own games. For our family vacations, we went camping. I think all three of us carry a deep-rooted appreciation of nature today as a result of this upbringing, something that's lacking in many urban- or suburban-raised people I know. Even if you do have to fight for your kids' attention with all the flashy gadgets that exist today, they're still going to have a much stronger connection to nature than most of their classmates ever will.

You never had to goad me into going down to the creek or exploring the fields below our house when I was growing up. That was the best part of where we lived that we could hunt for tadpoles and crawdads and whatever caught our fancy. Wading the creek was a perfect way to cool off in the long humid summers of my childhood. That and climbing the Big Tree in our side yard to play pirate, or climb way to the top and nestle into the branches to be held swaying in the breeze and look at the corn and wheat fields across the way. But I am your age and maybe the kids of today are too distracted for those things that I took to so naturally.

Julie, I'm so glad your kids get the chance to spend days like this.
Growing up in a rural area, I treasure the memories of summers spent playing outside from dawn to dark and finding frogs, eating gooseberries, learning why it's not a good idea to pee in a nettle patch, climbing trees, and making secret forts in the woods. I know someday Liam and Phoebe will thank you for the opportunity (if they haven't already!)

i`m agree of you saying !! Nature in untroubled, unstructured, unconstructed. That's real living.
Some day maybe i would to make my live as this : )

Are you gonna be in BIG trouble for putting up that Captain Underpants picture? Has he no shame?
I still want my daughter to marry him though.

p.s. My principal admitted to me that she'd never even heard of the Last Child in the Woods book. I'm giving her one in September, if you haven't written a better one in the meantime.

Great post, Zick. For the record, I was not sleeping. I was merely resting my tired eyes.

Phoebs and Liam get to vet the posts before they go up. I wouldn't post something that embarrassed them. Luckily Shoom has a high threshold for it. Once he decided that his Spiderman undies are no worse than swim trunks, he thought it was funny. I am sure there will be finer discernment as they get older, but for now they enjoy seeing themselves spotlighted.

Don't know if you've read any Anne LaMott, but I am quite sure I won't be writing about my kids' teenage foibles at their expense. Eeech! That stuff comes around.

These candid shots are wonderful, and they say so more than words ever could.
The essence of a child, uninhibited, to explore and learn, every expression--a real one, precious.
We should all be so lucky to capture that!

And, knowing my photo ops for catching MY children in this way, have passed--I know all the more the priceless nature of what you have shared with us here.

It's amazing how kids only need a couple square feet of nature to keep them occupied ... and usually it involves water. And yes, here's to getting your feet wet!

I was in Philadelphia on business when I read this post and it made me long for home and time outdoors with my son who is now six foot and would die before letting me take his picture in his underpants. But, there was a day...and I have the pics to prove it. Cherish the memories. Thanks for the reminder of mine.

Amen. I love this post.


Love it! It takes me back to the wonderful walks I took with my dad along the Wissahickon Creek in Philly. He loved nature, and loved that I did, too. Plus, he always took the rap for my excursions into the water. But we never told Mom about the leeches.

Mine are now 19 and 21 and grew up birding with us. They'll tell you at length how boring it was, and then fall over laughing about all the fun they had building forts, watching bugs mate on the handrail of the boardwalk, and taking goofy pictures while Mom and Dad were waiting for some warbler or other to show up. Then there was the spring break trip to Texas when they were in preschool when they said "Don't tell ANYONE that we went to a dump over spring break!" One had excellent eyesight ("What kind of owl is that over there?" as we swiveled our heads so fast it hurt) and the other liked to sketch a bit afterwards in the car--but neither of them "took" to birding in any big way. But it is interesting now to hear that some of their college friends think that their parents sound pretty cool to have done all this stuff, and one daughter, at a recruiting event for a big accounting firm, described how her childhood birding experiences taught her patience and how to entertain herself! Your kids will treasure these experiences and these years go by all too fast!

Darn lucky kids - wonderful parents.


I just got back from a week in the woods with my children. It was AWESOME!!!

You might be interested in this article by Pico Iyer:

It blew me away!

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