“Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”
— Mary Oliver
By Kenneth Pyle, Education Assistant
I had a unique upbringing: My dad was a Navy man, which meant that we would move every 3 years when I was a kid. And because of all his work tours, I was able to experience a variety of landscapes and ecosystems in Virginia, Florida, Texas and Japan. Between living in all these natural spaces and visiting my grandparents in the country, I feel like I had an unbelievable opportunity to engage with the outdoors as a kid. Then as a young adult, I found work opportunities in recreational spaces such as Acadia National Park in Maine, Sam Houston National Forest in Texas and the mountain wilderness of the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rockies in New Mexico. These places have continued to have an impact on my love for the outdoors.
Present day, outdoor spaces are part of my recharge. When I am stressed, confused or flustered, I can usually go outside and find something interesting that can either help me focus on what I am working on, or completely drop my frustrations as I observe something wonderful in nature. These moments can a spontaneous walk on a sidewalk path, where I might crouch down and watch pollinators buzz. Or these opportunities to recharge can be as elaborate as a weekend getaway with camping gear to one of our Nebraska state parks or recreation areas.
You might think that by providing the quote above from Mary Oliver that I am a person who only values time alone in nature. However, that can’t be further from the truth. In actuality, I love spending time with others, especially family and friends, in outdoor spaces. Knowing how much time in nature has benefited me, I’ve made it my mission to share outdoor adventures with others. I encourage you to do the same. Here are the reasons why:
Being Outside Builds Connection
Hiking on a trail, sitting on the grass near a stream or any other combination of activities in a natural setting can produce a strong, positive emotional response. When your outdoor companions enjoy their visit to a certain natural space, it can create a desire to immediately plan the next adventure. I frequently hear, “When can we do this again?” or “I can’t wait until the next adventure!” while packing up to return home. This response creates connection to the land, and often, people who feel a connection to a natural space will want to protect that space and others like it. The more people we can engage with nature, the better the future looks for our wild places.
Providing a Safe Space
Many people do not venture out for a variety of reasons. This can range from not knowing a place exists, to not feeling like they are welcome, to even questioning whether they’d be safe. Barriers can be physical, mental or emotional. One of my goals as an outdoor educator is to better understand access issues to help eliminate or overcome them.
When inviting others to spend time outdoors, whether for an easy walk or more intense hike, I consider everyone’s comfort level and any known past experiences that a person might have had in nature. I address these issues during the planning process. If I can understand why someone does not want to go out, that helps me plan something that will meet their needs. If I’m successful, my efforts will hopefully result in more people making new connections with the outdoors.
Another reason I love getting people outdoors is that I enjoy watching their reactions. Almost every time I spend time outdoors with loved ones, I hear one or many “wows” from the group. This keeps me going as it brings me back to why I like to go outside myself. Nature has a way of providing new opportunities and perspectives for us to be amazed and get lost in her wonders.
Last, but not least, any relationship built on trust can strengthen when outdoor time is a factor. As an introspective person, I tend to think back to precious memories made with family and friends when I return to spaces where we spent time. If I travel back through pictures or go back to that place in person, it’s like those memories allow me to spend time with them even in their absence. I love that.
How do I get people to join my walks? What does it take for planning? I sum up my method as follows: planning, personal invitation and follow-up.
Plan something relatively close by that you believe the person or group would like to do. Then make the invitation personal. I have had the greatest success when enthusiastically talking directly with the person or people whom I want to join me. If you take an unintentional approach and don’t make it personal, chances are slim that the person will join. Finally, follow-up with the person or group, and let them know that you are excited about them coming along for the adventure.
An equally important consideration, remember to set people up for success. Share your knowledge on how to prepare for the outing, such providing information on the appropriate clothing and footwear. When people feel prepared and comfortable while engaging in a new activity, they will likely want to do it again.
If you don’t know where to start and may feel a little uncomfortable planning an event on your own, keep your eye on event calendars belonging to outdoor social media groups or check out some local outdoor clubs, organizations or retailers for their event calendars. At the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, you’ll find events year round:
Going back to the quote from Mary Oliver — I do like others to join me as I walk through the woods. I love to scout out trees to touch, smell or climb. I want others to see the catbirds and talk to them, just as I do. We can each have our moments of silence and watch the foxes and deer run by, unconcerned. Reach out and invite the people you cherish to sit in awe in the natural spaces you know and love. We can recharge, relax and reflect together.