Asa young boy, I had the great good fortune to grow up in a small town in eastern Massachusetts where there was still a profusion of woods, open fields, flowing water, and undeveloped land to explore and enjoy.
And explore I did — frequently — and I enjoyed my outdoor time immensely. Mine was a (mainly) untroubled, and in some ways idyllic, suburban/country middle-class existence.
… For a while, anyway — yet trouble lurked in the background (more on this later).
Unlike most kids today, who are immersed almost non-stop in indoor activities like video games, TV, social media, and the Internet (and barely go outside), my friends and I usually had to fill our unstructured free time by creating our own fun and excitement –- much of which occurred outside or even deep in the woods.
Fortunately, my parents gave me a lot of play-time freedom, so I could usually come and go as I pleased — as long as I was back for lunch or dinner! No one was controlling my free time, or forcing me into rigidly scheduled trainings or back-to-back ‘activities,’ as so many parents do to their kids today. To a large extent, I was on my own (recreationally-speaking, at least).
I believe — no, I know — that this unstructured freedom and opportunity was very important to my inner growth and development.
As far back as I can remember, I always felt quite comfortable being outside and exploring, and even though I fully enjoyed TV, board games, and other indoor kids’ activities, my heart and soul truly belonged to my outdoor experiences.
My love of nature, and love of learning
I absolutely loved learning as much as I could about all the plants, insects, and animals. I was a voracious reader and student of nature, and over several summers took classes at the nearby Moose Hill Audubon Sanctuary, studying mushrooms, butterflies, birds, trees, and local wildlife.
I have particularly fond memories of my main instructor there, a quirky, enormously knowledgeable little man with huge wire-rimmed glasses named Mr. Buzzewitz (that’s how it was pronounced, but I have no idea about the actual spelling!). He seemed to know everything there was to know about almost everything.
I also attended several live-away summer camps where my love of nature and natural science was encouraged, and grew even stronger. At the last of these, which had the rather foreboding name Buck’s Rock Work Camp (but which, in reality, was more a creative arts and project-oriented camp), I was a Counselor-in-Training — or CIT — in their Nature and Science Center.
A potent, funny memory
One of my strongest memories — not especially positive, but very funny — of that summer is of a time when I was playing with a small monkey named Suzie, perhaps a Rhesus or Spider monkey, that we kept in the Center … and Suzie proceeded to jump up on my head, grabbed my hair and wouldn’t let go — and then crapped on my head!
Needless to say, I have not been overly fond of monkeys since then. It’s all quite funny now, but at the time I was disgusted, mortified, and furious.
Still, overall, I loved and deeply appreciated all my time spent out in nature, or working as a volunteer at the nearby Blue Hill Nature Museum, or as a CIT in the Buck’s Rock Nature Center. It was a marvelous opportunity and gift. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Now for the ‘trouble’ part.
Public school: where my troubles began
At school, things were always quite different. Extremely different.
There, I didn’t feel like I truly belonged — at all. During recess, when all the other boys wanted to race onto the playing field to play baseball or kickball, I sometimes preferred to wander along the edges of the large open field, observing all the flowering plants, bees, and butterflies, and picking luscious blackberries that grew there in great abundance.
To the other kids, my behavior was off-putting, and highly suspect. They thought I was very ‘weird’ — and they weren’t at all nice about it.
“Nature Boy” was what they started calling me … and it was definitely not a compliment. “Here comes Nature Boy!” (Cue loud, scornful laughter.) To them — and to me — it was a highly derogatory name, an embarrassing label that proclaimed my strangeness and total UNcoolness.
Back then (and even today), boyish adoration of sports, intense competition, and roughhousing were required in order to ‘fit in’ … and even though I too enjoyed such activities a lot, I just didn’t ‘feel the love’ the way the other boys did. It simply wasn’t my thing.
Me? I truly felt the love when I was in the midst of the forest, or catching frogs, snakes, or turtles down at the local pond, or gazing up at the dark, starry sky … whether by myself or with friends.
A painful and perplexing ‘separateness’
For me, exploring the wonder-full and mysterious world of nature was like partaking of an incredibly varied and luscious feast — but for the other boys, it seemed that the wildness and beauty of nature was invisible, or had already become completely irrelevant.
Even at that young age, they already felt little or no connection to the natural world around them, and thus also felt little or no desire to explore and learn about their own natural environment — or even about their larger world, in fact.
I found this extremely perplexing and confusing — and deeply painful. Their sense of wonder and innate curiosity were already fading fast, or even disappearing — and were rapidly being replaced by a narrow tunnel-vision focus on ‘the human things,’ on human creations ONLY.
Their inner worlds were shrinking and hardening — fast. It all felt so wrong to me.
So sad. So wrong.
I just didn’t get it — at all.
Therapy, soul-searching, and healing
It was only much, much later — after a lot of therapy, self-examination, and soul-searching — that I learned to ‘see through’ and heal the intense, merciless shaming that had been directed at me about being a ‘nature boy.’
Eventually, though, I realized/ remembered that being a ‘nature boy’ and outdoor explorer was, and IS, one of the best and most positive aspects of my life. Now I’m so proud of my wonder-filled ‘nature boy’ childhood.
My love of and connection with nature has always imbued me with a deep sense of caring about all life, human and non-human — and a deep desire to understand and protect our wondrous planet. (Later, in my 20s and 30s, I became an Environmental Education and/or outdoor ‘Experiential Education’ instructor.)
In retrospect, it astounded and deeply wounded me that my love of nature and outdoor exploration would be seen by most of my peers as something totally weird and undesirable.
Imagine: to them, loving and enjoying the natural world we live in was a shameful problem — something to be avoided, denied, and buried.
Healing the curse of ‘separateness’: it’s time to come Home
Scarily, I also started to realize that the deep separation most people feel from the natural world is truly a curse — a horrible curse. It is both a crippling disadvantage and a source of tremendous pain and alienation.
My God — is this pain-filled alienation and ‘separateness’ REALLY what we want to keep creating and perpetuating?
It’s insane, it’s crazy-making — and it’s dangerous. It’s a terrible way to be and live in this world.
How the hell did we ever end up this way? How can we reverse course, and fully reconnect with the natural world that enfolds and sustains us?
I don’t have any great answers — but I think it’s crucial that we all ask these questions. Today I’m so, SO grateful for my childhood upbringing, for all my learning experiences … and for all the time I spent being a ‘nature boy.’
Here’s this ‘nature boy’s’ strong personal opinion: Deep inner re-connection to life and this wondrous Earth is now essential for humanity, if we wish to even survive as a species.
Yes, it’s time — long past time, really — for us all to Come Home.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
From The Good Men Project on Medium
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