I've been thinking a lot lately, about taking children into the woods. Hiking, backpacking, adventures away from traffic and cell phones and soccer teams. I truly believe that it can be a transformational experience for kids to get away from their daily lives, so filled with distraction, and just be...quiet...still...
It is a wonderfully healthy thing to use the body to change place. So much of our location change occurs via car, bus, plane. (Even biking is rarer today than it was when I was a kid.) There is something so fundamental about simply walking and walking and walking. It feels good. The muscles strengthen and lengthen, the heart pumps in a stronger way, the brain clears with the steady rhythm of movement.
Here in the Northwest, our hikes are often a riot of green vistas (sometimes wet green vistas!), which are deeply lovely, I think, but desert hikes and chaparral hikes and meadow hikes can be equally transformational and healing.
Carrying everything one needs to be comfortable and well-fed in the woods for a day or more is even more empowering. (This morning a magazine ad for RV-ing caught my eye. The slogan said, "Find your AWAY," via an RV, of course. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. RVs have their purpose and place. It would have been lovely to have been inside one when Mark and I tried tenting in a Nebraska thunderstorm last summer. But that is not "away.") "Away"--at least for me--happens when I walk to places that no car or RV will ever be able to reach and set up my tent and filter my water and cook my food without leaving any traces that I was ever there at all. It is the rustle of a deer munching in a meadow, the chatter of a squirrel scolding me for trying to hang my food bag in his tree, the quiet staccato of rain on the tent while I slip more deeply into sleep in a place darker and quieter than I will ever find here on Laurel Lane.
Hmmm...can you tell how I feel about hiking and backpacking? It is my firmly-held belief that one of the best things we can do for children is to take them out into the woods. That's why I take my grandchildren backpacking the minute they turn seven. And that's why, when I became the Young Women's President at church last winter, I scheduled three day hikes and a 3-night backpacking trip this summer for the girls. When my own girls were teens, the annual backpacking trip for the girls was an expected part of the LDS culture. These outings mattered to my girls--and to me, as their mom--and we scheduled other commitments so they could participate.
However, I am learning that in the twenty years since my own girls went off into the woods with their Young Women leaders, some things have changed.
The first hike, in April, went off without a hitch.
But then in May, only 2 girls signed up and I was buried under schoolwork, so I cancelled the hike the night before. After all, our June hike was scheduled after school was out, and there wouldn't be so many conflicts then. Meanwhile, I was struggling to find the adult leadership required for the backpacking trip I have scheduled in July. I had been asking various outdoorsy-types at church since February, with no luck yet. Thinking about taking the girls into the woods left me feeling deflated and discouraged. Grrrrr...
Fast-forward to two weeks ago, when Brother K stepped up and said he would be glad to accompany us on any day hikes and the backpacking trip. Hooray! Plans could finally move forward.
Then, yesterday, for our June hike, only 1 girl showed up. The others who had been scheduled to go cancelled that morning. Poor little gal, she was excited to go hiking but didn't want to be the only teenager with three adults, and I can't blame her. So we took her home. Lame!
And today, checking in with the senior girls who have been asking me to take them backpacking, it turns out that they probably can't go after all. Their lives are too full of jobs and getting ready to leave for college and family vacations.
I get it. And I honor their need to make their way and accomplish the things that are currently priorities in their lives. I'm not trying to twist any arms.
But I'm sad, so sad, to have to say that it looks like I won't be taking any teenagers into the woods this summer. Because I know from deep down inside me, that the girls who come out of the woods will be different than they were before they went in.
Maybe next year. Maybe.
(Posts about backpacking with the grandchildren are here and here and here.)