“Daddy, what’s that?”
“It’s a gilled snail baby. Cool, huh?”
“Aw… It’s so cute! Look – one, two, three. Three snails, Daddy! Let’s find some more.”
And so it goes with a child at the river’s edge. An afternoon wasted on riverbank shoulder rides, throwing rocks and splashing, stirring leaf-cakes in pools, and finding rocks to sit on is not an afternoon wasted at all. Walking hand in hand in the warm fall sun, looking for rocks with holes worn in them from the relentless work of the waters, and talking about where she wants to go on a “special date” later is surely one of life’s most precious moments. Such treasures don’t have to be few or far between, and it doesn’t take easy access to a river or stream to build memories like this. Add some sun, fresh air, and a patch of green to an afternoon with a child and you’ve got a recipe for something fine be it in a national park or just a wooded ditch in the city.
I could tell you that I look for times like this to build an appreciation of nature in my little girl. I could wax eloquently on the values of exposing children to nature and unstructured play; the benefits are well documented and my professional path has led me to give such talks over and over again. I could do all this but I won’t. Get out there and those things take care of themselves. The simple fact is that I do it for much more personal reasons than that. Maclean wrote of his childhood surroundings in wild Montana: “Ours was a world with the dew still on it.” His words are among my favorite to describe a sense of wonder at the great and the green. My own reasons for going there with my little angel are many, but chief among them are that it just feels good to hold that little hand in mine and watch her eyes light up when she finds just the right stick to walk with or to feel her little cheeks on my head as she rides high on my shoulder. Tell me that’s not heaven here on Earth. I dare you.