Wilderness Mind and Powers of Observation- Helping Kids to See

14 January 2012

My son Nicolai and I spend a lot of time together outside, and as much time as possible together in southern Utah, my favorite place on the planet. I have been helping him understand “how to be”  in the bush since he was born. The phrase “how to be” can be taken in so many different ways, and I could write for days on the topic. But for now I will give it a simple definition- when we are in the bush we use our wilderness voice, we use hand and arm signals to communicate, we walk quietly and softly, and our senses- eyes and ears and even our noses, are open to what is happening around us. We are receptive to nature. We can call this being in our “wilderness mind”. I say we do this in the wilderness, but the practice naturally extends itself into daily life, making our everyday experiences all the better. Our experiences and practices in wild nature extend to and help create our experiences, and shape the way we approach, the everyday world. And the more time we spend in the bush, “practicing” what is natural and innate in all of us, the more those practices become part of the everyday.

That is a big part of being in nature for me, for us- that what we learn and experience there becomes part of how we approach life in general. And it is clear that this is working for Nicolai. Let me say that I do not see my son as a super-kid; I am not one of those parents who has or needs a gifted or genius child. But my son does see things that many people- kids and adults- do not see, and these powers of observation allow him a special window into the world. His patience, his ability to listen, and to sit still and enjoy clouds moving across the sky give him the advantage of being able to enjoy whatever situation he finds himself in. I credit much of this to his experiences in nature; I know for a fact that this is true for me, that my time in nature has and does shape who I am. Most important in this practice is the practice itself. Kant’s philosophical axiom “knowledge cannot transcend experience” summarises my position well enough. In simple terms, if you do not visit nature and practice observation and “being in nature”, there are no lessons, or experiences, to apply to the rest of life.

Nicolai is now attending the Running River School here in our community three days each week. I have been visiting the school and taking walks with his class, the Explorers, once a week for a few hours. My goal with them is to introduce the rest of the kids to these practices. Some days it feels like most of them would be just as happy on the playground. But the fact that we are out, walking down a trail, that we have “tuned-in”, and that they have been introduced to the concept of the wilderness mind is enough for the time being. It is clear that most of the kids understand that this is something different, that we are approaching our time outside in a manner different than we usually would. And whether or not they fully grasp the concepts that I introduce- stalking techniques for example-how to move your feet quietly, stepping over leaves, never stepping on tracks- they have been introduced. The seed has been planted.

To learn more about our philosophy, our adventures, and what we are learning, visit the Desert Explorer website.