Outdoor Girl

Please join me in saving our kids. Let’s take them to the woods and let them connect with nature.

Our daughter struggles with severe anxiety issues and other mental health challenges. From a very young age, she was driven to spend extended periods of time outdoors. We have learned that when she gets agitated or argumentative or teary, it’s time to send her outside, no matter what the weather is like. It even helps her think more clearly. Others sometimes question how we could allow our daughter to be outside in pouring rain, or in a snowstorm, or on a crisp, cold night. We know that’s the wrong question. The real question for our family is how could we ever imprison her inside? Outdoor GirlAll of our children spent the majority of their growing up years being homeschooled. Each one spent some time in public or private school settings, with mixed success. This youngest daughter tried valiantly to survive 6th and 7th grade in the local school. She was even granted an accommodation to be allowed to step outside with an aide or a counselor if she really needed it. But that just wasn’t enough. She melted down numerous times per day, overwhelmed by classroom chaos and expectations, fleeing to the quiet of the office. Obviously, academic progress is difficult when the student is never in class! We brought Daughter back home for school last fall…and she and I spent 6 weeks backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. (I’ve written other posts about homeschooling on the trail HERE and HERE.)

Counter to prevailing wisdom, Daughter and I did not take overnight backpacking trips prior to leaving on our adventure. I was afraid that if she was uncomfortable or became anxious about the trip, she would melt down and refuse to give it a try. It seemed to be a better option for us to do some outdoors walking in local parks, then get to the AT and hike “for real.” I knew hubby would come rescue us if needed, although we didn’t mention that to daughter. She focused on the itinerary for each day and made the decisions of when to stop for snacks and lunch. Having that level of control was helpful for her staying motivated to keep hiking.

After debilitating anxiety attacks 2-3 times per day during the school year, and 2-3 times per week during the freedom of summer, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect while we were backpacking. I was amazed that during our time on the trail, Daughter was generally calm, even-tempered and cheerful. She took pride in being equal to adults in skill, performing camp chores, and taking responsibility for herself. Yes, she had some grumpy, exhausted, teary moments…but so did I! In the 6+ weeks we were hiking, she only had one (count ‘em, ONE) anxiety attack. And after a stop for water, a snack, and belting out a favorite song, she was able to calm herself back down. The only time she struggled with maintaining her composure was when we were in the chaos of towns for resupply. Outdoor Girl ChildWe KNOW time outdoors is both helpful and healing for our daughter. She thinks more clearly and can focus more effectively on current tasks when she is in nature. We joke that we need to find a cabin in the woods to move to…even though that isn’t really feasible right now. So, she and I try to regularly walk in nearby parks, she spends hours on her scooter, and we are starting to count down the time til we head back to the Appalachian Trail for another long distance hike late this spring.

This winter, I was fascinated to discover that there is an entire branch of science focused on this link between nature and human well-being, called “eco-psychology” or “eco-therapy.” Here are a few links to interesting articles about the benefits of hiking, being in nature, and connecting children to nature:

Your Brain When You Walk in the Woods

Hiking Is Good for Your Mental Health

Less Outdoor Play Is Causing More Harm Than Good

Letting My Autistic Son Go Where the Wild Things Are

If you would like to read an entire book on this topic, this one is a classic: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. It is available on Amazon HERELast Child in the Woods

Running Away to Middle Earth!

It is midwinter in the Heartland—gray, dismal, cold, and rainy. It is definitely time to ESCAPE! A warm, sunny beach sounds lovely, but we are longing to return to the woods. In consideration of Daughter’s recent birthday, we have decided to make a brief trip to Middle Earth. 2016_0208_middle earth_SAM_8388_whitebalance_webWhat? You didn’t think that was a real place? I assure you, if you listened in on conversations around our house, you might change your mind. Daughter certainly talks as if it were true.

2016_0208_middle earth_20150917_175002_webDaughter’s trail name while backpacking the Appalachian Trail last fall was “Andowen,” based on an elven name from Middle Earth. When hearing the explanation of her name, fellow hikers told her about a “Hobbit House” for rent at a nearby campground. Andowen was immediately certain that we haaaaaaadddd to go stay overnight. She was very disappointed that I wasn’t interested in checking out the rumors. My arguments that we already had non-refundable reservations in nearby Harpers Ferry didn’t sway her. Neither did the fact that there was full resupply available in Harpers Ferry but only convenience stores near the campground. I’ll spare you the details of the whining, the begging, and the tears which failed to change my mind.

Fast forward to our upcoming trip to visit friends on the East Coast for a few days. A quick phone call to the campground and a look at the bank balance confirmed that an overnight stay at the Hobbit House is feasible. The forecast says it will be cold and cloudy. But we won’t notice. We will be surrounded by woods and will be basking in legend.  2016_0208_TreehouseCamp_HobbitHouse

Don’t worry if we disappear for a while—

Middle Earth is calling and we must go!

(Photos of Hobbit House from website for Treehouse Camp–check it out HERE)

After the Adventure…

WARNING: taking an epic adventure may “ruin” your life!

Our backpacking adventure has been over for a number of months now. The gear which was piled in a corner has been neatly stored in a closet, waiting to be pulled out and used again for another long hike on the Appalachian Trail in the late spring. Daughter and I have gotten more comfortable with daily life in town. Our schedule has gradually filled and it’s a fight to include regular time outdoors. After the Hike_Gear

In the past, I always assumed that folks who exercised regularly were simply wired differently from sedentary me. For years, I’ve done far more sitting than getting up and moving (including logging thousands of miles chauffeuring kids from point A to point B and back again!) I have always disliked walking along roads and through neighborhoods. After the first time or two, I’m bored witless. Plus, I hate the feel of walking on pavement.

My “normal” life has been ruined by our big hike. Now if I go more than a day or two without long-distance walking, I start feeling antsy. By evening, if I haven’t had enough exercise that day, I regularly find myself taking a walk in the dark around the neighborhood. Even my old dog is affected. She used to spend much of the day dozing by my feet. She rarely bothered going outside to our boring backyard. Now every time I reach for my coat she begs to join me. I can’t convince her that most of the time when I leave the house I’m not going for a fun walk… walk the dog

walk the dog 2

We still haven’t figure out “what’s next.” (See post about this topic HERE) But since “normal” life no longer fits us, we are plotting and planning our next escape. Until then we will search out interesting places to wander in Ohio. Although there is far too much flat farmland around here, daughter and I have discovered a few areas that add some challenges to our weekly walking excursions. Rock House_Hocking Hills

There IS beauty to be found outdoors, even if there are no mountains for hundreds of miles!Metroparks

Perhaps, if we keep walking, we can stay connected to the peace that we experienced on the Appalachian Trail… Sunset_Metroparks