Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Did you see that Movie about the Great Indoors?


Yeah, probably not.  What’s so great about being indoors? 

I’ve been thinking about the great OUTDOORS a lot lately, probably because I’ve been camping in my happy place for the past two weeks – high in the mountains of Markleeville, CA.

I grew up in rural upstate New York.  The great outdoors was my everything – my playground, my athletic field, my library, my game room, my kitchen.  Recreation meant being outdoors, in the rain of spring, in the heat and humidity of summer, in the crisp, cool days of fall, and in the freezing snow of winter.  As a child, I built forts in the woods, went fishing, played games, and rode my bike.  The last place I wanted to be was indoors.  Outdoors was freedom.  Indoors was chores and family responsibilities.  Outdoors was my happy place.  Even when I was doing indoorsy things like reading books or playing board games, I preferred to do it outdoors. 

My summers were spent on a tiny little lake in the mountains of Pennsylvania.  There was no television.  There was no radio.  Instead, we fished and caught bull frogs and went for hikes and picked berries.  We cooked outdoors.  We sat around campfires telling riddles.  We paddled the canoe and swam and spent entire days in our wet bathing suits. 

There’s something special about the great outdoors that, if you’ve spent time there, you just intuitively know.  The air feels different.  You can identify the sounds of birds or bugs or squirrels or chipmunks.  You can tell the difference between the sound of the wind in the trees and the sound of a rushing creek or river.  You know what time it is by the changing light. 

And somewhere, somehow, in this phase we call adulthood, many of us lose the great outdoors. 

And, sadly enough, many of today’s youth never experience it at all.  Yeah, maybe there’s an annual family trip to the mountains or a Girl Scout hike in the woods, but many of today’s urban youth don’t have the opportunity to really get to know the great outdoors – to smell the trees and the grass and the dirt, to feel the crunch of leaves or pine needles under our feet, to hear the birds and the bugs and the animals.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer with a great organization here in Northern CA – Trips for Kids.  I’ve been trying to remember when I first learned about TFK and their great programs – probably about 10 years ago now.  TFK provides inner-city youth with the opportunity to get out into the great outdoors, even for just one day.  They take kids, many of whom have never seen the ocean or the mountains, out on day-long mountain biking trips.  Trips for Kids provides the bikes, helmets, and all equipment needed (thanks to great industry, corporate, and individual sponsorship) and even teaches the kids the basic skills needed to successfully complete a short ride. 

I remember my first ride with Trips for Kids, back in 2003.  Velo Girls was putting on a special Girls Day in the Dirt for them.  We met the TFK volunteers and the girls at China Camp, played some bike games (to teach them skills) and then went on a short ride.  Although these girls lived within spitting distance of the ocean, most had never seen it.  Most also didn’t have a bicycle of their own (something my generation took for granted).  And most had never ventured more than a few miles from where they lived.

The response was overwhelming.  These girls experienced every emotion you can imagine:  joy at being somewhere so beautiful, fear of trying something new, and gratitude that there was an organization like TFK and it’s volunteers who wanted to provide them with a very special opportunity.

So, as we watch childhood (and adult) obesity statistics skyrocket, I have to wonder how we could change that if we simply re-introduced the youth of today to the great outdoors.  What would happen if we reduced our time with the television, computer, and WII, and increased our time playing hopscotch, kickball, jump rope, and riding bikes?  What would happen if we put down the computer and picked up a compass?  What would happen if we took our children on a hike instead of to the movies? 

Is it na├»ve to think that we could change the world one child at a time?  I don’t think so, and neither does Marilyn Price, founder of Trips for Kids.  So, next time you have the opportunity to spend time with a child (your own or someone else’s), think about the impact of the decision you’re about to make.  Will you share the great outdoors with them?  Will you encourage them to explore their world?  To be active and healthy?  Is there really any other logical choice?