Kaplan says, “Youth might be more attracted to environments that afford opportunities for independent action … and for gaining respect from peers and community.” How can I offer natural settings that offer my 12-year-old daughter opportunities for making choices and displaying competence?

1This spring the biggest desire and motivation of Rauz to be outdoors, to walk or bike in nature is to photograph. I say, “Ruaz I found these lovely flowers. You need to see them to take a photo.” She responds positively as she loves to photograph those flowers and also to post them on her Instagram page. The combination of her love for photography and having a strong Instagram presence/identity keeps her connection to nature live and meaningful.

In our nature walk, she initiates the activities and I’m learning to listen and observe her to see what is meaningful and satisfying to her. Often in our beautiful flower scavenger hunt, we talk about the power of nature, its beauty, its magic. We might see human’s ugly foot print or we may just bring it up to remind ourselves that this powerful beauty at the same time is very fragile. I believe such emotional and cognitive moments in the natural environments of our everyday lives would deeply touch her heart and mind to encourage meaningful actions. After all, youth needs to demonstrate competence and show one is valued by one’s groups.

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The call to reconnect …

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Every spring in March, we revisit the tangled tree.

For reassuring stability, that beyond all changes, something never change. The tangled tree can be trusted; the warmness of her arms can be felt; she shows life continues fully and beautifully regardless of ….

My experience of nature has always been affective; perhaps it is merely affective … and spiritual; rooted in my childhood and culture, in emotional and spiritual engagement full of aesthetic appreciation; influenced by historical and political demands of looking for life, the meaning of life, beyond human society, my society.

This search for the meaning of life carried into my adulthood; a subtle and complex interaction which is the main source of resiliency and joy … and identity formation.

It is important for me to nurture and cultivate with Rauz the affective engagement with nature. Rachel Carson (1998) and other environmental scientists suggest that passion for life can be nurtured through immersion and creative interaction with nature and “the emotional significance of experiential relations to nearby nature that seemingly become a legacy carried into adulthood” (Cobb, 1977). An interaction that according to Kellert (2002) can be emotionally complex: wonder, satisfaction, joy, but also, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.

I believe experiencing and responding to these unique and diverse emotions in the natural world prepare her to better understand and deal with challenges of life … after all, these challenges define life … they are the meaning of our shared lives.

For Rauz, at this time, the connection is adventurous, affective, and therapeutic. The visit always starts with finding a “good stick”, to use for searching, climbing, for tactile closeness. Tangled tree is “simple” and subtle, available but somehow mysterious. She measures how much the tree and her have grown together; sibling relationship.   

 

As Pyle (2002) argues such connections and immersions are powerful in nearby and familiar natural spaces … and s0 we continue re-connected to the tangled tree at the beginning of the spring.

It’s just a different experience.

According to the UN statistics, every year, the world’s urban population increases by about 60 million. That means, by 2050, 7 in 10 people will live in cities and towns. In Canada about  81% of the population live in cities (2011). Almost half of the world’s children live in urban areas (2005). We can’t deny the advantages that urban life offers to some children, including access to educational, medical and recreational facilities, although urbanized childhood has created many challenges for today’s children.

We are a few subway stations far from the beautiful lake Ontario, where new high rises are popping up almost everyday and cars are exhausting the streets of downtown Toronto. We have witnessed the growth of asphalt and bricks and the decrease of wild life in the waterfront in the last 10 years.

It’s, however, a complex picture. While the modern urban architecture, entertainment, and colorful crowd are attracting people to visit the Harboutfront, the blue water of the lake, the sky horizon, and the pigeons and sparrows amaze young and old as much if not more.

The foot steps on the wooden pier, the rhythm of the lake waves, honking geese, and the breeze were playing an inviting music for Rauz to dance under t2he clouds.

 

A mix of man-made and natural elements created a stage for a performing body responding to the world around, a body and mind in the harmony with the environment.
I was amazed by her immersion in this environment, in one-hour dance and movement. But wondering if this is a challenge to what Robert Pyle believed as “the extinction of experience,” a loss in our connection to our habitat. I suggest this is a different experience with nature in the urban environments. I can’t deny the richness of a quiet walk on a natural trail miles away from the mechanical noise of the city. But I see the human strong desire to respond to nature and to belonged, regardless of the circumstances.

 

The power of Caspian Sea

Summer 2013-Iran 217Travelling with my daughter to Iran after 3 years, I was hoping to see her falling in love with my country … to enjoy being with her extended family (over 20 cousins, aunts and uncles) but also to deeply feel the beauty of this piece of land on “another side of the world” too far from North America. A country with a dry and hot climate but precious pieces of green  lands, waters, and unique mountains. I have to say it was not easy considering her coming from Canada, which has many beautiful natural treasures, with such a small number of people. Also, she hasn’t the opportunity to create the deep memories that I did while I was living in Iran, not only as a child but also as an adult. So no wonder the high mountains, the local parks, and the greenness of places we visited didn’t impress her at all. Until, we went to Babolsar, a city by the Caspian Sea in north of Iran. Caspian sea actually is a huge lake (and that’s why it’s called a “sea” in my country) and it is the largest salt water lake in the world (about 371,000 km2). We Spent 5 days there and she was lucky enough to see the strong waves of this lake and the power of its water pulling anything very hard into the water. People can drown in a shallow water because of these currents which sweep them out to the sea. So I let her to go in the water but had to stay very close to her although she was right on the shore. The very first day, while sitting where the water merging with the sands, she said quietly, “I want to stay here forever!” My heart stopped hearing her expression about the pleasure  of her experience. I was waiting for this moment, to hear this, for 20 days then! The waves and the warm water and the novelty of the experience … a pure moment of unity and harmony.

Now that we’re back to Canada, she has already memories to cherish, memories to keep her connected to Iran, to make her “wanting to go back.”