My mom, Bunnie, died six years ago after a long illness. We were close but our relationship was not without rocky patches. Since I began working for the Children & Nature Network two years ago, I can say without hesitation that my appreciation for her has grown. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t thought about her influence on my enjoyment of nature and the gifts she gave me in that regard.
The Gift of Walking
My mom didn’t drive. In L.A., a place built especially for transportation by car. As a result, we walked everywhere when I was little. She walked with my brother and me to different parks and playgrounds, talking to us the whole time. We ran errands on foot (and then by bike when we were older), so that we had a sense of our place on the earth and in our community. We knew neighbors and shopkeepers and had a different kind of life than the kids who were driven places.
It helped that my parents had settled in Santa Monica, CA, which they chose because it was (and is) a very walkable, livable place, with real streets that feature neighbor-serving businesses and good public transportation. I rode the bus by myself at age 9. Pretty much everyone walked, biked, or bussed to and from school.
I love to walk to this day. I enjoy the activity in itself, and a pace that allows you to engage with your surroundings and neighbors.
The Gift of Splashing in Puddles
We didn’t have snow in southern California, but we did get rain. My mom was not one to let the weather impede any plans. Dressed appropriately, in raincoats and boots, we were encouraged not only to walk in the rain but to enjoy it and to splash in the puddles. Her attitude was, “Who’s afraid of a little rain?” To small children, especially, rain is something to be enjoyed, not avoided. And children’s bodies and clothes are meant for play.
The Gift of Summer Camp
My mom was a Brooklyn, N.Y., girl, but her childhood memories from upstate New York’s Camp Guilford and Oxford had deeply imprinted on her. She talked lovingly of classic camp activities like archery and color wars. My parents worked summers; there were not a lot of family vacations. But what my brother and I did have was camp. I got to go to camp for nine summers, seven of them at Tumbleweed Day Camp, beginning incredibly enough when I was four.
I loved everything about Tumbleweed. It was in a gorgeous, special spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. Days began and ended with folk songs sung in an amphitheater made of logs. (I can still sing the camp and other songs.) I learned to swim there, and ride horses, and jump on a trampoline. We had cookouts and sleepouts and dress-up days. In the 70s we did modern dance to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida while the boys played caroms. There were nature hikes. (I learned about poison oak and bee stings and the glorious smell of sycamore trees.) We cared for goats and made lanyards and macaroni-and-paint-covered cigar boxes. There was one camp craft I loved so much that we started doing it at home, too — gathering items from nature and placing them in a paper cup, pouring resin over the items so that the whole hardened into a medallion, and then drilling a hole and stringing it to make a necklace.
Because I loved camp so much (can you tell?), I sent my own daughter to camp and sought the most traditional, nature-oriented ones I could find. So far she has attended five years of JCC Day Camp and four years at Mountain Meadow Ranch in California’s Lassen County, and I believe her experiences have been formative.
The Gift of Independent Exploration
From about age 5, I regularly took my own “adventure walks” around our neighborhood — with age-appropriate limits, like working up to crossing streets. My mom championed and encouraged these. She understood the power of exploring on ones own, the serendipity of what might transpire.
That I called these “adventure walks”, even though they took place in a neighborhood of suburban apartment buildings, speaks volumes. Any walk can be an adventure, given the right spirit and the desire to find something new. To this day, I enjoy being in a new place, whether it’s an exotic location or somewhere nearby.
The Gift of Appreciation of Nature
My mom’s appreciation for the beauty of nature was apparent in the photos she took, and also in our home. She had a beautiful rose garden, which she lovingly tended. Once a week, she’d pick roses from it and arrange them in vases that would be placed around our house. She seemed to spend hours arranging them to please her aesthetic eye. I have strong memories of the lovely rose smells, the snipped stems on our kitchen counter, and also of her being lost in the activity, as her slender fingers repositioned the open roses in their vases.
The Gift of Quiet and Observation in Nature
My mom loved any walk in nature, in various seasons, usually with her twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. She would slowly stroll, pausing often to aim her camera and look down into its viewfinder to compose her shots. She took great pictures — in New England falls, of the plants in the park near our house, in the Japanese gardens she loved. As it does with me, I believe nature provided her a kind of meditation. Photography was a fun activity, as well as a way to harness and focus observation. On my early walks, I took a notebook. I now often carry a notebook and a camera. And, if my family is any indication, I can take just as long as Mom did to compose and take a shot.
Today, I especially enjoy taking pictures of wildflowers. Appearing each year as a fresh surprise, wildflowers embody so many of the gifts available in nature: serendipity and discovery, wonder and delight, rejuvenation, quiet enjoyment, and sheer beauty of form.
For all these gifts of and in nature, thank you, Mom!
Happy Mother’s Day.
Photos: Mom in Japan (with camera case), Wild Douglas Iris