(Thomas Froese Photo)
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, August 6, 2022)
According to my phone GPS, two of the three children are gone. I asked their mother about this. “Yes, Number Two and Number Three,” she said.
“Oh,” I said. When did they leave?
“Yes, of course. To where?”
Only Child Number One, the Mac nursing student who’s working in a nearby seniors home, sleeps here now. The younger two look at the stars from wherever. I’m also happy to report that now, from a quiet house, I’m beginning to hear the wind in the trees again.
Such wonder. Ask Calvin and Hobbes. You know? The cartoon strip characters. Calvin: “Look at all the stars! The universe just goes out forever and ever!” Hobbes: “It kind of makes you wonder why man considers himself such a big, screaming deal!”
Then the lakes. And forests. And that wind on your face. It all makes you happier and healthier. A phone app (good grief, a phone app) confirms this, the importance of place.
It’s called Mappiness. This is not to be confused with nappiness, the feeling I get when wandering in the quiet house. Mappiness surveys you on how you’re feeling throughout your day when in different places. Apparently we’re least happy at work, or home while sick in bed. We’re most happy when with people we enjoy, and when we’re outside in nature. No surprise.
Yes, nature has much to teach us about our physiology. As Richard Louv, author of “The Last Child in the Woods,” points out, serious academic research that’s now taking off in this field should have done so decades ago. Humanity’s disconnect from the planet only deepens.
Enter summer camps. Gain self-confidence. Bond with others. (Especially after our social malnourishment.) And connect, sometimes deeply, with creation. You know, nature. If you’ve forgotten what it is, consider Oscar Wilde’s definition of nature: it’s where the birds fly around uncooked.
Speaking of birds, in my own camp experience I learned about the birds and the bees. Yes, it was at summer camp where I first learned from a certain brown-eyed girl about this part of creation. Not through personal experience, of course. I was in grade school. And I was fully stunned by the remarkable truth of it, how our planet gets repopulated. You mean? Really?
But I digress. In relation to global population trends, it was 2008 when, for the first time in world history, more people began living in cities than outside them. Which doesn’t help us become less anxious or distracted or narcissistic or plain kooky. In our time, more people live with, literally, less oxygen to the brain. This may explain certain things.
So am I overjoyed? Eternally grateful for my kids’ Summer of ’22 experience? Sure I am. They’ve been in leadership training at InterVarsity Pioneer Camp in Muskoka. It’s where their mother, an Order of Canada recipient, once developed her own leadership skills. In fact, Canada has a myriad of overnight camps involving tens of thousands of youth, the first real return to this quintessential Canadian activity in three years. We can applaud everyone involved, everywhere.
And when I asked my two kids what’s struck them most about their summer experience so far, what did they, in separate conversations, say? The stars.
It helps us rethink everything. Look at, say, the Fins, often surveyed as among the world’s happiest people. Until not long ago, they were known as a nation of forest people. Finland still has laws allowing you to wander through natural spaces to camp, or pick flowers, or mushrooms, or your nose, or anything, really, without worry. That’s good, barefooted thinking.
Of course, I’m talking to myself about all this as much as anyone. Rather than wander around a house that’s now quieter – an activity I’ll always enjoy – I still need to get outside. Maybe I’ll cycle in the woods. Because place does matter. And the smell of trees is better than Eau de Nothing.