We all suffer from a lack of time, and perhaps priorities, that keep us away from experiencing certain things in life. If enjoying the outdoors is one of those things that appeal to you (and I assume it is, since you’re reading this), take heart! Outdoor adventure doesn’t need to take time, money, or even much planning. Here are a few easy ways you and your kids can enjoy the outdoors this summer, on a moment’s notice.
1) Go See Some Fireworks!
Happy Independence Day to my US readers! This timely suggestion is just an example – but taking advantage of local festivals and celebrations is a great way to get some time outside. Same thing applies to sports, believe it or not – it’s not always exactly “nature”, but time spent under the sun or the stars is still healthier, physically, emotionally, than absorbing yourself in a video game for hours.
2) Take a Hike (or Bike)!
One of my favorites, you’ve probably noticed. A hike doesn’t have to be measured in miles – it can be a stroll around your local park, a walk on the beach, a climb to a local hilltop. Even a short hike away from the pavement is good for you, in a way that transcends the benefit of just exercise. And even on familiar roads you’ve travelled many times, the slower pace of a bike, and the physical exertion required to make progress, forces you to notice things that you’re oblivious to in a car. While you’re out there, pay attention to geology (how this creek is cutting that valley), and wildlife (what birds and other animals live just beyond the bubble of my home). Better yet, find a favorite area that you can visit again and again. The changes you’ll see due to weather, seasons, and impacts of wildlife are enlightening. You’ll start to view that place as a true ecosystem, not just a spot on a map.
3) Cook and Eat Outdoors!
The classic summer picnic! Pack up a meal and head out. True, this takes a little bit of planning, in that you need to package in a way that prevents crushing, and spilling, but it’s not that hard to do, and the internet is full of good recipe suggestions. Up your game a bit, and take ingredients, instead of meals. If you’re in a spot that allows a small backpacking stove, or even a grill (many public parks have charcoal grill sites!), plan on cooking up dinner onsite. Even just assembling a sandwich triggers that sense of creation and accomplishment, while increasing your confidence that you don’t have to be tethered to civilization to survive. Most foods, particularly fresh fruit and veggies, last longer than many people think, but even if you’re worried about being away from a refrigerator, a small cooler can give you all sorts of options. There’s almost nothing you can make at home that can’t be duplicated outside – go gourmet! It’s a great feeling!
4) Go Fishing!
This one isn’t for everybody, but it’s an easy escape. Whether you like to fish from a boat (and try multiple spots), or sit on the bank with a worm and a float, the mere act of fishing focuses you to think of the world from the point of view of a wild animal. Where are the fish hiding, how deep are they, what are they interested in eating, how can I entice them without them having to leave a “safe” area? Even if your idea of fishing is lounging on a bank under a tree, you can’t help but engage with nature and notice the little things going on around you. Plus, when you CATCH something, it’s exhilarating! Regulations vary, so check where you live – but it doesn’t take a lot of gear to enjoy an afternoon by the water.
5) Float a River!
Rivers are natural roadways – many just happen to be one-way streets. Even in relatively populated areas, rivers provide a wild path, and cut through familiar areas in completely unfamiliar ways. Many have easy access points, and there are a wide variety of outfitters and liveries that will provide you a canoe, kayak, or tube, and give you an easy way to relax and ride with the current – whether that be a gentle flow, or an adrenaline-pumping set of rapids. Wildlife congregates to rivers too – ducks, geese, wading birds, raptors, otters, beavers, deer – you’re likely to see some wild resident you don’t normally glimpse. Let the current do the work, and enjoy the escape.
6) Find a Sit-Spot!
Many birders, and even practitioners of yoga and meditation, are familiar with the concept of returning to a physical location to just… sit. The idea is at the root of backyard courtyards and zen gardens everywhere. To enjoy it from the perspective of connecting with nature, take a camera, or even a notebook with you, and prepare to hang out a while. It takes birds, in particular, about 30 minutes to settle down from an intrusion and start to decide you mean no harm. Pay attention to them – what trees and territories do specific individuals inhabit? Are they nesting? You’ll learn alarm calls, and start to understand whether they’re talking about YOU, or maybe the neighbor’s cat. Insects, squirrels and other animals will settle down and act more natural as well. In short – blend in and become unobtrusive, and suddenly you’ll start to get a glimpse at how nature acts when you’re not there. Return to the same spot often, and the animals that live in the area will become more accustomed to your presence. You’ll notice stories unfolding – birth, life, death, migration, predation. It is, on many levels, enlightening.
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are many, many ways to enjoy the health benefits of connecting with nature, as well as learning a little bit about natural places and those who live there. Often, all we really need is an excuse. I hope this short list helps you find some!
Get Out There!