I was raised in the countryside and by the sea. I spent most of my time outdoors. This was not as a deliberate strategy, but simply because that’s all there was to keep a child entertained.
As it happens, I was an avid naturalist, and I only drifted away from this outdoor lifestyle when I came of an age where – equally naturally – I drifted into coffee bars, pubs and jazz clubs.
It never occurred to me that my early life had been something special, until I started running nature-based retreats and workshops. Virtually every day I’ll draw on that early experience in some way. It may be in naming a bird or plant, understanding the tides, or navigating my way in an unfamiliar landscape. The skills I learned through undirected youthful curiosity – ‘messing about’ in simpler language – continue to both direct and enrich my life.
Without any knowing it at the time my active and undisciplined childhood also laid the foundations of a different kind of learning. Agility and motor-skills develop early given the opportunity. They stay with you through life, and I can still climb and balance better than many people of my age. Physical stamina and emotional resilience can be developed at any time, but there’s no doubt that an early start prepares us for living with resources we are not conscious of but should be eternally grateful for.
Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, puts it eloquently:
“Nature – the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful – offers something hat the street, or gated community or computer game cannot. Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity… Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, exposes the young directly to the very elements from which humans evolved; earth, water, air, and other living kin, large and small. Without that experience… we forget the larger fabric on which our lives depend.”