Despite my parents’ protests to the contrary, I remember being a complete nincompoop as a child.
We did not eat out at a restaurant as a family until I was 5 and my brother 3, probably because we were unruly little hellions who rarely stopped moving or sat down, even to eat. I recall afternoons being kicked out of the house after wrestling with each other in the family room and countless car rides spent whining and provoking each other. While the Montshire Museum may have felt like it was hours away from my house, I only recently discovered that — according to Google Maps — it is a quick 15-minute drive door to door.
Nowhere were my parents’ concerted efforts to raise us more visible than in their stubborn insistence on getting us outdoors. In addition to our continual banishments from the house, we ventured out on numerous mandatory family outings to local spots like French’s Ledges or Balch Hill for picnics, short hikes and snowshoes.
My parents often used the Valley Quest books or geocaches to coax us up the slopes with the promise of being allowed to use the ink blotter to place stamps all over our bodies or the hope of exchanging something brought from home for a new trinket. Other times, they would lure us into the woods with M&Ms and chocolate bars as the reward for making it up a trail.
Even though I spent much of these outings complaining about bugs, heat, prickers, thirst, hunger, my siblings and boredom while contributing very little to team morale and carrying no supplies at all, I now look back with appreciation at what my parents sacrificed for us.
I am grateful for the efforts they made to expose us to the outdoors and trails, as they gave me the gift of my favorite pastimes, my most treasured moments and my current employment. All of these activities additionally inspired my love of the outdoors, passion for stewardship and fervent belief that everyone should have access to these spaces that have afforded me great peace and strength.
When I spoke with my parents about their memories, it seemed like much of it, at the time, was a survival tactic. As my mom remarked somewhat ominously, nothing good came of a whole day spent indoors. Both of them also concurred: Start really small, make it fun, keep it simple.
One of their only guidelines was that we should be outdoors for at least twice as long as it took to wrestle us into our jackets and boots. Looking back, my mom recognized that they thought it was important to raise outdoor kids because it was what they loved and thought was an important way of life and that, even as they sought to set us on that path, they saw the many different ways we could pursue that lifestyle.
When I asked at the conclusion of our conversation if it was all worth it, Mom stated unequivocally, “Very much so.” Particularly now, with the challenges of the pandemic, they see the fruits of their labor as my brothers and I run, hike and bike to entertain ourselves and to connect with our friends.
As I spend time reminiscing to write this, I realize exactly how much work goes into this leisure. The volunteers and professionals that maintain trails, the organizations like the Upper Valley Trails Alliance that facilitate these communal spaces and the teachers, camp counselors and day care providers that frequently wrangle children outside all play a part in raising outdoor kids. Turns out it takes not just one but many villages, so thank you to the community at large for your support.
And on a more personal note: Thanks, Mom and Dad — I’m so glad that you succeeded in leading the way.
Written by Josie Bourne and published in the Valley News on July 4th, 2020