If you walked into my home on any given day, it’s quite likely you would find an assortment of sticks, a bowl full of pinecones, a jar mixed with agates and sea glass and various other rocks, an old wasp nest, the remnants of pressed leaves, flower petals or maybe even some mushroom spore prints. The collection typically varies with the season, but it’s always there, the mementos and treasures all found in nature, reminders and souvenirs from places explored and treasures unearthed.
We all have souvenirs of some kind. A reminder of a place once traveled or a gift to bring home to someone we love. But how often have you collected a souvenir from the place you call home? When was the last time you brought home an agate from a dusty path you walked, a piece of sea glass from the North Shore, a spring flower in bloom to bring home and place in a vase on your table to admire?
For many of us it’s not too often we look at the ground below our feet or the trees around us as something to be treasured. That’s because we are so habitually rushing through the steps, forgetting to take the scenic route or stop and smell the pine trees, that we forget how to be wild. We forget how to observe and cherish what surrounds us right here on the beautiful North Shore.
That’s why I’m raising up wild things, little naturalists, curious explorers, or free range children as our homeschool group often laughs about.
It wasn’t but a few years ago that I lived in a sweet suburban neighborhood a few states away, where time outside was the perfect plastic playground or the meticulously curated “state park” that was over trafficked and posing little connection with the nature that resided within it. It was Duluth and Lake Superior that lured us in with its vast beauty, appreciation for the earth and sky which surrounded it and endless amount of outdoor recreation. In only a few short years we’ve hiked hundreds of trails and miles, swam, kayaked and camped among the tall trees.
So much of this is likely familiar for so many of those local to the shores of Lake Superior. However for us, it's not just recreation, it’s a lifestyle. As a homeschooling family of six, part of our mission is to preserve childhood for our children. It’s a mission I stand by even on the days that are hard. And believe me, as a mom of four kids under ten, A LOT of those times are hard. I’ve had years of carrying a toddler on my back and a newborn on my front (Thank you to Osprey and Ergo for literally holding us up during those seasons).
I’ve had times where it’s taken longer to get on the winter gear, then the time we actually spend outside. I see you, moms and dads whose kids legs go limp and lifeless the moment you try and shove their legs into snow boots. I’ve learned to breastfeed in baby carriers while walking and helping a toddler hover over a tree branch to tinkle in the woods (true story)! You can scroll instagram and quickly find a handful or more of “influencers” who make the time outdoors look easy, relaxed and no sweat at all. You could also join me and a handful of other nature-loving homeschool moms once a week and hear pouting kids, the bribery of snacks, and the plea of “how much longer” whining from a child’s mouth.
What you might also hear though, is the exclamation of a child who finally had the courage to climb a tall tree and the sweet encouragement of friends cheering them on. You would experience the utter excitement of a child who found treasure among the rocks on the shore or a walking path. You could hear kids pointing out wildflowers, types of tree leaves, animal tracks and asking, “can I chew this plantain for a poultice for my friend’s bee sting?”
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” -John Muir
There are days when they will be still and wait for the waves to come and wash over their feet. Holding their breath until the next one comes and fills their lungs with lake air and laughter. There are nights they will stay up far past their bedtimes to wait for the stars and practice naming the constellations. There are long afternoons when they are deep in the woods without anything but a pocket knife and their imagination and they build forts and trading posts, trading only the goods they have found and collected along the way. There are moments where complete boredom would likely cause them to ask, “can we go home yet?” But instead, it sparks curiosity and imagination. It encourages them to explore and create, to observe and collect, to slow down and make themselves at home in the wilderness that surrounds them. The same wilderness so many of us walk or bike through recreationally many days.
Amidst the hard moments, the uphill climbs with kids in tow, the resistance to take the path less traveled, there is so much wonder to be awakened in the natural world around us. In this nature directly below our feet and out our back doors, right here along the incredible north shore of Lake Superior. But oftentimes it takes seeing it through the eyes of a child and walking at their pace, to truly observe and absorb it.
“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
-Richard Louv, Last Child In The Woods
For my family, this endeavor of embracing the outdoors certainly wasn’t a lifestyle change that happened over night. We bought state park and hiking trail guides. We’ve checked them off, little by little, noting our favorite ones to come back to. We’ve set goals to spend 1,000 hours outside every year. Sometimes that looks like going for a walk when we would rather be crashing on the couch with a movie instead. Sometimes it means taking our school books outside and learning about grammar under a tree or math with rocks and sticks or swinging in a hammock with a good book. There are days we hike in the rain or bundle up in the snow. There are many days when I hold my breath as my child climbs a tall tree, or leaps on slippery rocks through a river. It pushes us all out of our comfort zone, but on the other side of comfort, there are always rewards. The immediate ones I want to jot down in a notebook and take pictures of to share on my Instagram, but also the long term ones that shape the way my kids view the world around them and the hope that I’m raising them up to slow down, go outside, and always take in the wonders of nature…and on most days, bring little pieces of it back home as a reminder of the joy it continues to bring them and me.
I wanted to share a few tips with you for how to make time outside more enjoyable and manageable:
Start small. Go for little walks or bike rides. Don’t try to tackle a long trail your first go at it.
Always be prepared; snacks, water bottles and a simple first aid kit, and did I mention more snacks?! Ha! Food not only nourishes but can be a good bribery to push that last bit of the trek back.
Invest in good gear. Hear me out, this doesn’t mean buying brand new and spending a lot. Duluth has some amazing consignment and used clothing stores. There are also lots of great marketplace finds or connect with some families with kids who want to swap sizes/trade. Quality rain gear like Oaki suits or packable raincoats with taped seams. Sun hats for summer and long underwear for winter. All of my kids, ages 3 and up, carry a small backpack with their own water bottle and extra socks, gloves, packable towels, snacks etc.
Encourage curiosity. Bring magnifying glasses, binoculars, field guides, trail journals and more so they can investigate the area around them. And investigate it with them! Find some right here at North & Shore!
Find or create a community to join you on this movement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Amanda Barta is a homeschooling mom of four, Birth Doula, and owner of Envision Birth Services
. Amanda and her family live on a quiet dirt road out of town where they enjoy their large garden and nearby woods for learning, roaming and playing. Aside from her time spent out of doors, Amanda relishes in her time gardening, baking, growing and foraging herbal remedies with her family. As a Doula, Amanda serves the Twin Ports and Iron Range areas. She works from home while delicately balancing the chaos of motherhood and the humility of serving families during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, all while likely surviving on a good cup of coffee or tea! Amanda is committed to creating and nurturing communities not only for parents with children who wish to walk the path less traveled, but also for her clients and community of new parents in the area. You can also find her writing in The Lake and Co.’s issue titled The Good Life.
Follow Amanda’s homeschool and outdoor adventures on IG @root_and_wander.schoolandfarm
Doula business: @envision_birth