We shouldn’t need an excuse
June 8, 2015
by Ivan Raconteur

When did it become unnatural to spend time enjoying the beauty of nature?

A notice about National Get Outdoors Day, which will take place Saturday, June 13 this year, caused me to wonder why such a day is necessary.

This will mark the eighth year of the event. The prime goals of the day are “reaching currently under-served populations and first-time visitors to public lands, and reconnecting our youth to the great outdoors.”

I have no objections to the day. In fact, I look forward to it. Many state and county parks have educational and entertaining events planned, and I have taken advantage of some of these in the past.

That said, it seems bizarre that spending time outdoors has become so foreign a concept to so many people that it’s necessary to create special reasons to lure people out of their lairs. It seems strange, and yet, I’m as guilty of this as the next person. Far too often, I find myself indoors working when I would much rather be outdoors playing.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time outdoors, as did all of my friends. In fact, in the days when I was too young to get a job and had the luxury of summer vacations, there may have been entire summers when I never stepped indoors except to sleep.

That may be a slight exaggeration, but we certainly didn’t need an excuse to go out.

I’m confused by the change in our culture, and I have seen the change gradually take place over the years. I can’t imagine what my grandfather would have made of it.

I never had the privilege of getting to know him. He died when I was quite young, so my knowledge of him comes mainly through stories, photos, and a few faded memories. He died before personal computers, cell phones, and the Internet.

He and my grandmother lived in a house he built. It was situated on a hill above a river, and was surrounded by tall trees. They had large gardens, and got many of the things they used from the land and from the woods.

My grandfather was a sort of primitive artist. In addition to being an expert carver, he was a painter. He painted on canvas and built his own frames. He also painted on things he found in the woods, such as tree fungi.

Going outdoors was not a choice for my grandparents; it was a natural part of the fabric of their lives.

If someone had told them it would be necessary to designate a special day to encourage people to go outdoors, they would not have understood. I imagine they might have muttered something, probably in Finnish, and shaken their heads in disbelief. The concept of not spending time outdoors would have been too foreign for them to comprehend.

And yet, not so many years later, it seems a growing part of the population rarely goes outdoors, and has never even visited a state or county park.

It’s difficult to explain the value of the outdoors to someone who has never experienced it. I’m glad there are volunteers who are willing to provide programs to help the uninitiated discover the beauty of nature.

We shouldn’t need an excuse to go out. There are countless reasons we should want to get out and immerse ourselves in nature. We don’t need to hike to a remote spot in the back country. There is plenty to see much closer to home if we take the time to look for it.

I am reminded of a line from an old John Denver song.

“I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.”

That says it all, really. It may not be easy to quantify the value of spending time outdoors, but it’s pretty clear that there is a value to it. If we fail to take advantage of the opportunities to get outside and experience nature, we will be poorer for having missed it.

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