There’s a little green glass dish of small rocks sitting in my living room, and when my mom stopped by the other day, she asked me what they were. I told her that when I go off somewhere special for a hike or other outdoor adventure, I always bring a rock home with me. After one hike this past summer, I set the rock in that dish, and since then, that’s where they have gone (I have many other rocks in a jar somewhere). Well, my mom thought this was cool, and she even took the little magnifying loupe I have sitting beside the dish and examined the rocks (they’re so interesting to see this way!). As she exclaimed about them, I smiled and knew where I got my curiosity and love for all things in God’s world.
This love seems to have passed on to my own children, proof of which came in a photo of a shelf my daughter Michelle sent me yesterday. Michelle likes to build things and reconstruct furniture. The girl is creative and undaunted. If she wants to do it, she’ll figure out how. So, with her little handsaw, hammer, nails, screwdriver, sandpaper, and bits of scrap wood, she builds some pretty great stuff. Recently she made a shelf, like the grey one in the photo above, and, as she often does, Michelle sent me a photo of it when it was finished.
The photo is blurry, but you can see that it’s a fine-looking shelf. I love it, and I love the fact that my daughter is making things, but something else pleased me just as much as the shelf itself—what she had placed on it. Nature stuff. There are field guides and other nature books, leaves, sticks, shells, rocks, books about nature, a “bug barn,” gems, a mounted insect, a pumpkin, and more.
Michelle and her kids are always bringing nature inside with them after they have been out exploring, and they put those items where they can see and enjoy them. Like on this shelf. But their nature-stuff is not only on this shelf, it’s everywhere, and some of it is living. When I visited the family recently, and it was bed-time, Michelle said, “Oh, yeah, Mom, if you hear a really strange, loud sound in the house in the night, it’s just Jayden’s frog.” Huh, Jayden has a frog? This kind of thing is so routine in their house that no one thinks to mention the latest addition to the live-nature they are keeping.
For example, Roman’s spiders. He takes good care of them, and they live for months and months and months. You might have seen this text message I posted recently from Roman to his dad, reminding him to buy crickets for the spiders. Roman has read countless books about spiders and has observed them minutely. He describes to me at length the behavior of spiders, and it’s really interesting!
I suppose it’s natural for my kids to share nature with their children. Why wouldn’t they? It was a huge part of our home culture when they were young. And if they loved it then, why would they stop loving it now? Michelle was the one who created the bird-project book pictured above (and represented by the photos in this post). But this was just one of the many nature-things she did, and all of the other kids had similar learning adventures.
We lived in the country while the kids were growing up, and I described part of our nature-life in something I wrote a year or two ago:
My kids grew up in nature. Their father was an amateur entomologist who spent hours at his desk meticulously pinning beetles and butterflies to his insect mounting boards. He enlisted the kids in his bug-capturing campaigns, and they raced exuberantly around the property swinging butterfly nets through the air. A grey, papery (vacated) hornet’s nest hung from the family room ceiling above a large terrarium where stick bugs crawled, camouflaged, across green blackberry vines. Crickets chirped happily inside our house at night in their carefully constructed habitat, while museum beetles stripped a frog carcass clean to the bones in a tightly-sealed glass case next to the crickets. Collections of rocks, shells, nests, pressed flowers, and whatever other interesting things we found outdoors sat everywhere.
The kids explored tide pools at the beach, poked in the dirt, hiked through lava fields, crawled through caves, and followed animal tracks around our property. Summer nights, we lay on a blanket in the grass to wonder together at the heavens, brilliantly illuminated in the darkness of our high desert country sky. We all marveled as we observed the delicate intricacy of snowflakes under the microscope. Birdfeeders and nesting boxes were hammered together to feed and house our feathered friends. And the kids created illustrated nature journals as well as beautifully annotated photo-records of particular nature experiences.
Wherever our family was, we explored the natural world, but mostly we explored our own property—sometimes alone, and sometimes together. We had no agenda—we simply pursued nature because it was interesting and beautiful, and we grew to love observing life on our property as it changed through the seasons.
So, why is this a big deal to me? Why do I care one way or another? Because “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and as the book of Romans indicates, the nature of God can clearly be seen in the natural world He created for us. It’s a beautiful world, a gift, a treasure, and we need to value it. Research offers a huge list of benefits that come from being in nature—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically—when we are allowed to interact with nature on our own terms, without someone directing or curating our experience. Research aside, the main reason this matters is what I said first—that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” It doesn’t take research to convince me that being out the natural world and really allowing ourselves to take it in is essential for well-being, and not only for our children, but for us, too.
It's truly sweet for this mom and grandma to see this way of life carried on in her family.