Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Adventures of Nature Boy

From the October 2007 Issue of Health and Fitness

The Adventures of Nature Boy
Stacey Greenberg

In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, he defines Nature-Deficit Disorder as the cumulative effect of withdrawing nature from children's experiences. He says that it’s not just individual children, “Families too can show the symptoms -- increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, feelings of not being rooted in the world.”

I come from a long line of city girls, but when I married a former forest ranger, and later gave birth to Nature Boy, I found myself spending almost every weekend hiking through Old Forest trails of Overton Park. Frankly, if it weren’t for these weekly communes with nature, here in Midtown, it’s likely our resident forest ranger would have moved us all to Alaska long ago. The Forest Ranger and I are doing our best to combat NDD in our own lives.

On our most recent hike, we were specifically on a hunt for lizards. Nature Boy, now age 5, needed a lizard. Bug box in hand, we set off down one of our favorite trails that opens up near the playground on East Parkway. As we made our way down the path, The Forest Ranger started off with his usual, “Remember when a bee stung you?” speech, reminding us of the time that I ran from a bee that eventually stung Nature Boy on the ear.

“I’m completely over my fear of bees now—I’m in search of lizards!” Before we can even really start looking for a lizard, Nature Boy has found a centipede and The Forest Ranger, who is now working as an Archaeologist, has found a small glass bottle dated 1927. Geronimo, my three-year-old, and I assist with the bug box and “ooh and aah” accordingly.

A few steps later and we have a millipede! The Forest Ranger laughs as we try to get it in the bug box which is full of holes small enough for it to easily climb through. I’m totally over bees, yes, but I’m not so sure about this millipede. “It stings,” The Forest Ranger says coolly. We decide to let the millipede stay put.

Some new trees have fallen since we last visited and the boys waste no time climbing along them to check out the view. Geronimo, spots some low hanging vines ahead, and they are quickly off to play Tarzan. If the vines are hanging just right, The Forest Ranger and I get to play Tarzan, too.

We pass through to the road running near Rainbow Lake and turn right to circle back towards the Red Playground. Not two seconds later Nature Boy has spotted his lizard.

“Look daddy!” he says as he points to a tree trunk.

“Don’t grab it by the tail,” The Forest Ranger warns.

“Why not?” Nature Boy asks.

“Because it will fall off and the lizard will get away.”

“Okay,” he says seriously and expertly grabs the lizard around the middle. “Mommy! I need the bug box!” he exclaims.

I rush over with Geronimo at my side and we both congratulate Nature Boy on his successful capture. He is gleeful. “I did it! I caught a lizard! I’m going to catch flies at home to feed him,” he says happily.

Yes, Nature Boy can catch flies with his bare hands.

“But what will we name him?” I ask.

“Lizzie,” says Nature Boy.

He imagines that Lizzie will live a long, happy life in a box next to Hermie and Crabby, two hermit crabs who came home from the beach with us in July. (In truth, we will let Lizzie go the next day.)

Energized by the find, Geronimo is off to the Red Playground and Nature Boy is at his side. The Forest Ranger and I water the dogs, Posey and Picard, and smile big at each other. The Old Forest is our sanctuary.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Why I Love the Old Forest

My husband and I started walking through the Old Forest Trails long before we had children, so it seemed only natural to start bringing them along after they were born. Their earliest trips involved baby Bjorns and later baby backpacks. They both loved watching the seasons change and feeling the wind in their hair while strapped to my tummy or Warren’s back. We have fond memories of when each of them graduated from being carried to walking on their own. Now that the boys are 5 and 3, most visits involve bicycles.

I really can’t imagine living in Memphis without Overton Park. The Old Forest is like a sanctuary for us—our own little patch of wild. The boys have not only watched the seasons change in the forest, they’ve seen firsthand the effects of storms, learned about (not) littering, and gained an internal sense of direction. The boys are always excited to see a new bug, or yes, even a snake, seed pods, nuts, strange fruits, and countless other treasures lurking in the woods.

Speaking of lurking in the woods…Overton Park does have a bit of a reputation for providing refuge to people who may possibly be engaging in somewhat illicit activities. In all of my visits to the trails, both with and without my husband and with and without my dogs, I have never had an “incident” of any sort. I’d say the worst thing we’ve come across is a used condom or used toilet paper. However, I would suggest taking a husband and/or a dog with you on your visits, if at all possible.

Other handy items to bring: a cellphone (in case of emergency), a map (available at the Golf House or through Park Friends, a water bottle (A reusable one! Please don’t add to the litter!), a plastic bag (for picking up the aforementioned litter if you so desire), a camera, and maybe even some snacks. Depending on the weather, the mosquitoes can be pretty bad, so prepare for that too. And if you are allergic to poison ivy, be mindful of where you step.

On most days, the forest is a quiet haven from everyday life, full of wonder for both you and your children. It is very common to see other hikers, people walking their dogs, young families riding bikes, joggers, etc.

On Saturday, September 8, from 10:00am-11:30am. Don Richardson of Park Friends will lead a hike on the trail. Meet at the trail head near the Rainbow Lake parking lot. (Don does this tour often, check with the Chickasaw Group Sierra Club for other specific times and dates.) This is an excellent way to orient yourself to the trails.

There are many different trails to take, some more well-traveled than others. You could visit the park every weekend have a different experience. Incorporate your hike with a visit to one of the playgrounds, a picnic, or a visit to the Zoo.

Whenever it snows, which isn’t very often, the first thing we do is head to the park. It looks like a totally different place when it is covered in snow. The golf courses are like winter wonderlands. The hill behind the Golf House is perfect for sledding.

For the past couple of years when I have asked Satchel, now 5, what he wants to do for his birthday he said, “Go to the trails with my friends.” One year we had a birthday picnic by the red playground and then went hunting for bugs on the trails with all of the partygoers. This last year we had a slumber party followed by a nature walk. I love that he would rather go to the trails than anywhere else.

For years Satchel marked the days of the week by whether or not we were going to the trails. Since we normally go on the weekends, he would wake up each morning and ask, “Is it a trail day or a school day?” If it was a trail day, he jumped out of bed a lot faster than he did on school days.

There are a lot of vines hanging from old trees in the forest that are perfect for swinging. There are plenty of overturned trees that are fun to climb on, explore root systems, and count rings. There are some gigantic pieces of broken pottery that we pretend are alien pods. I have a million stories swimming in my head that were conceived along the trails with Satchel and Jiro.

The safest place to park, if you are driving, is by the Golf House. If you park by the “red playground” just make sure you don’t leave anything valuable in your car. Ditto for parking near Rainbow Lake.

There aren’t many restroom options, so make sure you go before arriving. There are port-a-potties along the golf course and by Rainbow Lake. If you park near the Golf House while it is open, you can use the restrooms inside.

And if you see us along the way, be sure and say hello!