Who am I? Why am I the way I am? What factors have affected me through life which contributed to who I am today?
These are questions I often ask myself.
During a parent-teacher conference, my 3rd grade teacher told my parents that I always came in with a big smile on my face. I was a little too chatty, but she loved how happy I was.
Who was that little boy? Is he still inside me today or did I chase him off?
Connecting With Kids
Today I am sitting near the top of The First. This white oak has become a trusted friend and mentor over the past few years.
The First is our primary climbing tree at camp. Sitting at the top, I am looking down on the cabins below. I have a clear line of sight to the swimming area where children will splash and play come summer. The backdrop to this end of camp is bright blue thanks to the clear sky and its reflection across the lake.
This week we have 3rd graders in camp. This is likely the first time they have experienced life in the woods. They are introduced to wildlife, plants, minerals, sights, sounds, and smells that may not be part of everyday life in the city where they live. For most, this is the first time they have been away from mom and dad for an entire week.
Sitting high above the children below, I am out of their line of sight. They are enjoying free play with each other. Digging in the dirt, building forts out of fallen branches, throwing a football, and singing songs. Their imaginations guide them.
The First and I are relaxing and taking it all in. I am enjoying this youthful energy carried up to me in sounds of laughter and chatter. These sounds take me back.
Connecting To Nature
Can you remember what you were like in 3rd grade? It seems like when I was not in school, my brothers and I were playing outside. We had a huge open field behind our house and plenty of lakes and parks within walking distance. I remember field trips to the zoo, aquarium, planetarium, nature centers, and the Everglades.
I do not recall what grade I was in, but one of our field trips took us into a mangrove swamp. Trudging through the knee-deep water, we used nets to skim the surface of the water and scoop up muck from the bottoms. We were collecting samples of the different types of animal life found in that ecosystem. I can still picture the sea cucumber we collected quite vividly. I remember the contrasting responses of “cool” and “gross” ringing above the hum of “oohs” and “eews.”
Years after I scooped up that sea cucumber, new friends were introducing me to the excitement of repelling off cliffs and climbing rock faces. Hiking and camping were common weekend getaways during my years at college. Numerous lakes and rivers in the area provided the opportunity to fish, swim, and canoe.
Is there a specific aspect of Nature you find yourself drawn to? For me, trees have piqued my curiosity.
I find both comfort and a sense of excitement when I am spending time amongst trees. For whatever reason this connection exists, it is ultimately responsible for the direction my professional career has taken over the years.
Reconnecting With Myself
Spending personal time in nature is where I tap into pure and concentrated life energy. It is essential for health and well-being.
Call it maturity or call it life, somewhere along the way, my focus on how I spent personal time gradually shifted.
Commitments, responsibilities, and other demands for my time increased over the years. These impacted the amount of time I set aside for personal time, let alone that time being outdoors. I watched this shift over the years. What used to be something I did because I enjoyed it, like spending time in the garden pulling weeds and watering plants, was now viewed as a chore I have to tend to.
As I considered the subtle change over the years, the innocence of the children below brought my younger self out of the mangroves and onto a nearby branch. My reflections back upon the beginning of my career allowed that young adult to join us.
The three of us sit together. Looking at both of them, I realize they are still very much a part of who I am. We were each part of discovering who I am and determining the direction I would move forward. Our intentions were to make wise decisions that our future self would be inheriting.
As a kid, I learned the correlation between healthy ecosystems and healthy organisms. I also knew the joy of spending time outdoors.
I still have the same joy in my heart and have continued on the journey I envisioned at each age sitting before me. I am happy with my successes and know they would be proud of the man they have become.
Spending these past few moments thinking about The First, listening to the children below, and spending time with my younger selves, I feel revitalized. My vision is clear.
I remember who I wanted to be.
Looking back, what were the experiences and memories that shaped you? Do you have a connection to nature and the outdoors that informs your values and choices? Do you want to be able to give those same experiences in the trees and forests to your own children and the next generation?
You never know what experiences will become memories or even passions in our lives. The important thing is to get out, open our eyes, and follow our hearts.
As an I.S.A. Certified Arborist, T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, T.C.I.A. Climber Specialist, and GOTC Recognized Instructor, Curt has spent over 25 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.