Some of my most prized photographs are of my children enjoying nature. I love these pictures because they capture an experience rather than just a moment. They capture a feeling, not just a smile. If I framed each photograph with a word to match the mood, they might read: Quiet, Calm, Stillness, Relaxation, Connection, Freedom, Peace, or perhaps even Escape.
Years ago, when one of my daughters was struggling with bullying at school, a friend offered me a few words of wisdom: “Go to the mountains.” I couldn’t help but smile because that was what I had always done whenever I felt burdened with the heaviness of my emotions. A walk by the creek or a hike in the woods seemed to always make everything a little lighter and a little brighter. Nature beckoned me to be in one space - the space before me - at that moment. Nature was the great escape from my worries and anxiety.
Time spent connecting with the natural world helps children navigate and cope with the challenges they may face in childhood. I have found this to be especially true when it comes to bullying. Through nature, children discover that the world is bigger, more beautiful, and much less complex than any situation they may be facing at that moment.
Bullying encounters do not usually resolve themselves overnight. Even when bullying behavior is seemingly stopped in its tracks, an emotional footprint is often left behind, and healing takes time. Nature provides a perfect setting and endless opportunity for children as they regain confidence, build trust and learn new behavior. But as I look at the photographs of my children enjoying the outdoor world, I am reminded of nature’s most important offering to a child who is involved in bullying…the chance to forget about things for a while. Bullying is serious business, and it takes an emotional toll on all of those involved. Nature provides an escape. A chance for children to just be children once again.
As caring adults, we can help the children we know go to the mountains, whatever and wherever those mountains might be. I grew up in the coastal plains of New Jersey, so it was flat land for me, but my mountains were long nature walks with my father - some of my most treasured childhood moments. I noticed things about the world around me, beautiful things, and this helped me see the beauty in myself. My favorite walk encircled a small man-made lake. I always wished that the lake were bigger and the trail longer so I wouldn’t have to leave. I see now, that I took the trail with me, and this is the true beauty of our children’s encounters with nature. That calm, nurturing experience doesn’t stay on the mountains, or on the trail, or in the park, or even in the backyard for that matter. It stays with children in the moments when they need it most. Nature is life’s greatest teacher, and we can come back to it again and again.
Maybe your mountain is a city bench at dusk observing together how day becomes night. When one thing ends - another begins. Every day, a new beginning.
Maybe your mountain is a community garden. When people come together, beautiful creations are possible.
Maybe your mountain is a stroll on the beach. Look at all of the different types of shells. No two shells are exactly alike.
Maybe your mountain is a photography book of breathtaking landscapes. There are so many beautiful places to discover in the world.
Maybe your mountain is a porch swing. It is nice to just rock here steady, back and forth, back and forth. Just like our breathing. In and out. In and out.
In this excerpt from my favorite poem, For the Children, poet and naturalist, Gary Snyder, reminds us that togetherness in nature is empowering in challenging and difficult moments:
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers
We must share with children the beauty of nature so that they may see the beauty in themselves and others. We are the teachers of flowers. A beautiful responsibility, indeed.