When people think of nature, too often the only images that come to mind are distant, expansive places like Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon, or even more remote wilderness like Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is a grave mistake. Viewed through the wildlands lens, nature is something you might visit at best a couple of times a year while on vacation. Yet nature is everywhere—in our backyards, schoolyards, and gardens, thrusting skyward through sidewalk cracks and chirping in the neighbor’s tree. Indeed nature is quite literally everything, from stars and galaxies to planet Earth and the stuff in you. As Henry David Thoreau once said:
“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador a greater wildness than in some recess of Concord.”
If we’re going to connect children (and ourselves) with nature, we must learn, as Thoreau did, to experience the natural world often, and with our full suite of senses. But what kind of nature do we need?