My mom taught me to love nature. My parents and I packed a picnic and drove about an hour out of Sidney, Nebraska to hike in what we called “Marlboro Country” on many Sunday afternoons. We hunted for fossils and arrowheads, and listened for birdcalls. Mom also had a green thumb. Every corner of our yard had something growing. Lily-of-the-valley and bleeding hearts in the shady corners; cosmos and snapdragons in the sun. Mom divided her bulbs and succulents; she pampered her rose bushes; she groomed her lilac hedges. We had philodendrons and sansevieria scattered about inside the house and she talked to her African violets in the big picture window because they were “sensitive.”

I have a shoebox full of heirloom seeds my mom saved for me from our yard. They’re carefully labeled in her handwriting, and they represent my memories of her perfectly. She taught me to identify trees and birds and seashells. She loved the mountains and the oceans. Mom never had a bad day on the golf course because she was just happy to be outside. When she was 95, we’d drive through the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s three-mile loop and she’d happily read the signs and talk about the trees.

I can picture my mom pulling grass along the edge of our back porch and coming up with a garter snake. It’s etched in my memory because mom otherwise took the high road and eschewed “foul language.” Her love of nature did not extend to snakes. But she allowed me to get dirt under my fingernails and scrape up my knees. My childhood was filled with what I remember as practically unsupervised summer days playing in Lodgepole Creek across the street and “Rattlesnake Cave” on the golf course just down the block. My neighbor friends and I pretended to be Gilligan’s Island castaways in “the crick” and a neighborhood dog became “Lassie” for imaginary fun in the cave. 

My pop culture references might not resonate with young parents. But just think – after all these years, my fondest childhood memories are of being outside, with and without my parents. Jump on the back-to-nature bandwagon and send your kids outside to play!

Thanks, Mom –