It’s July in New England and my kids are running around a Vermont field at dusk, chasing the fireflies twinkling all over a pinkish sky and creating a magical, warm, summer night light show. Sleepy birds are chirping their final songs for the day, and multiple generations of my extended family are building an evening campfire to roast sausages and fresh corn for dinner tonight after a long day of canoeing, kayaking and fishing upon our local creek.
Each summer we are lucky enough to load up our packs and fly from Northern California back to New England, where I grew up, to give my kids a taste of home; where my first love of the outdoors was nurtured like a little, green, bendy, eager, maple tree sapling by my outdoorsy father.
My paternal grandparents ran an all-boys summer camp on a lake in New Hampshire, so my dad and his three siblings grew up running amok all summer like wild banshees, swimming, hiking, canoeing, scouting, shooting, sailing, fire building, camping, and backpacking. Learning, tasting, and experiencing every possible skill and activity involved in the outdoor world. The camp shut down with the untimely, early deaths of both of my father’s parents, but the spirit of camp counselor and getting involved in just about everything outdoorsy lives on in my dad.
When he became a father, he was poised to pass along his love for the outdoors, as if by energetic charge, into the very essence of our being. So, indeed, as a kid, I soaked up his outdoor love and teachings like an eager apprentice. Following him around the stone fences near our property in Vermont looking for creatures, hiking to the tops of the Green Mountains with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches squished in our packs, stacking wood in our driveway for hours and hours to prepare for the freezing winter days ahead. We paddled the shores of Lake Champlain in our yellow, Old Town canoe, silently gliding past secret spots where families of raccoons and deer came to drink.
Now, I pass these experiences to my own children with the same zest and patience my dad shared with me. More and more, my husband and I take the kids into the mountains behind our California town, finding a secret trail to explore, a lizard to chase, or a path of spring wildflowers to follow. We?re clamoring up boulders on our Golden Gate National Recreation Area beaches, and road-tripping the California Sierra Nevada mountain range for a taste of spectacular high country.
Each summer, when my dad and I reconnect in Vermont and my kids leap into his arms after a year of living too far away, my dad revels in his old job as teacher, guide, and facilitator of all things outdoorsy. Grandpa and grandkids head off to the nature cabin to discuss plans for the week, outdoor adventures to be had, filled with unique, Grandpa-only experiences even I can’t give them.
Towards the end of the night, after the final marshmallow is roasted and scary stories cap another active Vermont day with cousins and aunties and grandparents, my kids fall asleep with insect bites, scratches, and bee stings, but happy, outdoor-filled heads. I know that someday, if my three kids decide to have children of their own, they’ll likely plant an outdoor seed in their own family. Passing along their love to the next generation, like my father’s parents did for him and he did for me.
And just maybe – I hope – someday I’ll be that cool, outdoorsy Grandma who takes my grandkids? hands and guides them down the trail to that magical place of finding true joy in the outdoors. Continuing that vital tradition of passing the love and importance of nature between generations.
Annie Yearout is an outdoor and adventure travel writer and author of OutdoorsyMama.com, a blog motivating women, kids and families to get outside and explore. She partners with non-profits to get kids outside, is a member of Epic Social Adventure sponsored crews, and is always eager to throw a backpack on her back and hit the trails from her home in Northern California.