by Shanti Hodges
I still remember the ?Oh, no? look in my husband?s eyes when the doctor confirmed a June due date for our son?s delivery. I knew Mark?s mind immediately skipped from ?We?re having a baby!? to ?We?re going to miss out on a whole summer of mountain biking and rafting.? And so there it was, the reality of a summer spent within concrete confines of Portland, Oregon nurturing a newborn.
When Mason arrived, we lasted about a week inside and then we had to get out. Going far from home wasn?t realistic for me yet, so “getting out” meant discovering our city in a whole new way. Slowly but surely, we found that exploring nature in an urban landscape with a baby didn?t mean the end of our adventures, it just meant the adventure wasn?t mountain biking Moab.
With this temporary ?grounding? we discovered that our backyard, like so many others across America, had much to offer in ways we had missed with our constant desire to head to the backcountry. When we stopped worrying about how far away from the city we could escape and simply looked around us, we discovered nature was everywhere.
If your lifestyle is decidedly urban, here?s a guide of options to help the family find a little piece of wilderness, in a park, on a sidewalk, or at the shopping center.EXPLORE – Spread a map of the city out on the floor. Look at all of the parks and sticky note them. Chances are there are heaps of parks you never even knew existed within a few miles of your home. Start with those you don?t know and work your way toward your own neighborhood.
STAY CLOSE TO HOME – Start near your home turf and fan out from the front door. One of my favorite ?hikes? is not only the first I ever did with Mason by myself when he was four weeks old, ?it?s also just a few blocks from my house. This is also where Mark proposed to me and is less than ten minutes from a streetcar running into downtown.
WOOF, WOOF – Look for dog parks with trails or an open space to walk the perimeter as your dog plays. Portland, and many other communities, have beautiful dog parks, and even though I don’t have a dog these days, I have enjoyed “dog park walks” with other friends with kiddos in spaces I never would have visited otherwise.H20 – Water is wonderful; it seems to have a calming effect on old and young alike. Look for rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes. Seek out water features in playgrounds in the summer, places where ducks, bugs, and aquatic plants live. More and more, cities are working towards creating better parks and areas around water features.
LOOK FOR STRUCTURES – Seek out unique structures like historic mines, buildings, or churches. Even functioning dams or power plants can be interesting and great fun to explore. Check your city’s visitor bureau or chamber of commerce for historic sites and walking tour maps.
GO INSIDE – Museums with exhibits about nature can help cure a need for trees and rivers. Look for nature exhibits in museums. How about photography of nature or animals? This is a great way to battle outdoor cravings when a cold snap hits or a rainstorm forces you inside.URBAN WALKS – Start a walk from the local library, perhaps after baby or toddler story hour, and end at a park. Get older kids to ?lead? the walk and point things out to younger ones. This slower pace will show you a beautiful tree, the blue sky, or the sound of a bird singing.
MANUFACTURED NATURE – Look for natural features in unexpected places; ponds at outdoor malls, or even business park landscaping. This can be an especially safe environment for a new toddler just getting to know the world.
CLIMB HIGH – We?re lucky in Portland with tons of stairs to climb up and down. The higher you go, the better the view, and with it a sense of stepping out and above the concrete jungle.
DARKNESS – Give stargazing a try. Moonless nights are best, but remember a headlamp or flashlight for a safer experience. Another option is to hop in the car and visit a park to see stars and twinkling lights of town; the ride home might even lull little ones to sleep. Even a family walk around the block before bed can make everyone snooze a bit better.
WEATHER – Get the right gear for your climate. While the price tag may be higher than expected, if you want to really explore rain or shine, sleet or snow, gear will ensure everyone in the family is prepared, and comfortable.
Shanti Hodges is the founder of Hike it Baby, a parent group dedicated toward encouraging families to explore nature with their newborns and toddlers. She has written for Outside, Men?s Journal, Marie Claire, Self, Shape and is the author of Women Who Run, a collection of stories about women worldwide who put one foot in front of the other. She lives in Portland, Oregon.