The evening glow is settling in. As the trail dips down, I feel a cool pocket of air around me. The trees are bursting with new growth, and I see three deer bounding up a hill in the distance.
There is hardly anyone else around even though I’m in a park in the middle of a city of 1.3 million people. It’s simply magic. I keep walking until long after the sun has set. It has been a very long day and I had just about fallen asleep with my 6-year-old, but something nudged me out the door that evening.
I’ve always had a deep relationship with nature, but the stress, unpredictability, and loss of control that the Covid-19 brought has me seeking out the simplicity and healing powers of nature in a whole new way. In fact, I (and many others) will never be the same again.
The pandemic has meant different things to us all. Feelings of grief, financial stress, fear, and loss often rose to the surface (especially in the beginning). For many of us, these challenging feelings have also been mixed with re-evaluation of priorities and seeing the world through a bit of a different lens. We are looking at alternatives to traditional education and 9am-5pm office work. We are re-thinking our kids’ hectic schedule of extra-curricular activities and considering how we really want to be spending our time, energy, and money. I was curious if my own deepening relationship with nature was something others were noticing in their own lives. So, I decided to ask.
I posted a few probing questions on social media, and received some really interesting responses from parents about their own relationship with nature and the role it has played on their family life during the pandemic.
One mom of older children talked about how even though she loved being in nature and her kids liked playing outside, their hectic, pre-pandemic life didn’t allow for a lot of outdoor playtime. Without hockey practices and long school days, life dramatically slowed down. She commented, “we have discovered a lot more freedom in nature and my boys are finding their playful sides again.” She mentioned that their daily explorations at the park near their house were vital for maintaining their mental health through this stressful time. They also served as a free ‘activity’ they could do while under financial strain.
Another mom described herself as an “indoors kind of girl.” Although she enjoyed getting out for walks with her almost two-year-old in the stroller, she was a fair-weather person, and preferred trips to the science centre and engaging in pretend play at home with her daughter. When the pandemic hit, she felt a real need to get outside and into nature. She saw her little girl play in a whole new way. She observed pretend play with natural loose parts like pinecones and rocks and sensory play as her daughter splashed in puddles and felt sap on her hands. This mom wrote, “I’ve come to value how outdoor play engages her without me having to ‘entertain’ by structuring an activity. It has taken the pressure off of me, and allowed her to explore and control her own games more than in the house, where she bores easily and seeks me out for stimulation.”
One of the parents who responded to my questions is a working mom, with both she and her husband attempting to juggle full-time work from home while parenting and schooling their active 4 and 6-year-old sons. This mom has always placed a high value on nature, but it was challenging to fit in enough outdoor time when her kids were in school and daycare all day. Now that the whole family is home, they go for bike rides at lunch time as a chance to connect and reset for the afternoon. They have set up their backyard with large loose parts so the kids can occupy themselves and play creatively while both parents are in meetings. Instead of outdoor time having to be squeezed into an already very busy day, they are finding that time outside is now more woven into the flow of their day. As work and school returns to ‘normal,” this family is determined to continue to prioritize outside time in their routine.
As I reflect more on my own relationship with nature, I see more than ever how invaluable it is for managing my stress and anxiety. I am much more aware and appreciative of the emerging signs of life as spring has finally appeared. The upside of a few months of decreased work has meant that I’ve had much more of an opportunity to get out and just play with my son in natural environments for hours at a time. Instead of a hike in the mountains or a quick neighbourhood walk, we have found new hidden gems of nearby nature to just play in. It’s been such a blessing to observe his curiosity and developing connection to the natural world.
All of the people who shared their thoughts with me mentioned how they hoped they could hold on to their strengthened relationship with nature as the things return to “normal.” I have a feeling they will. Nature reminds us that despite all of the chaos, there is still so much beauty in our world. And this is what will help us move forward.