Taking a child outside is a great way to change your perspective on nature. Most people don't realize how little they look around until a rambunctious 3-year-old takes them for a walk. Three year olds have a hugely different perspective on life. This is partly because they have little experience in the world and mostly because they are short.
My son, now 3, stood up on a bench the other day and screamed, "I can see faces, daddy, I can see faces." Somehow, it never occurred to me that he spends his day looking at people's backsides unless they make an effort to get down to his level.
Imagine what a ramble through a forest is to a little person. Shrubs would be like huge towering trees. Wildflowers would be something as tall as you or taller. Mushrooms would be knee high, and trees would be huge beyond belief. Roots that stick up out of the ground make an obstacle course.
To see what they see, an adult would have to crawl on their hands and knees, moving through the forest at about 100 miles an hour with sudden stops for interesting things. These things may be completely mundane to most adults: acorns, mushrooms, ants, odd beetles or rocks.
To a child, these things are treasures. It is not unusual for a child to stop and stare at a pile of ants on the sidewalk for five minutes. The accompanying grown up may not be so interested.
My daughter, while running through the woods at top speed, came to a screeching halt. She dropped to her knees and stared, unmoving and unblinking at something on the ground. After a few minutes, during which my son was cornered and brought back, she was still there in the same position. The object of her fascination: a tiny beetle.
"What is it?" she wanted to know. "What do you think?" is my standard, thoughtless reply. "A beetle." Well, that's as much as I knew too, so we came up with a name for the beetle. She named it milkshake. She names everything milkshake. I don't know why.
Children have the imagination to make anything interesting.
This is one of the superpowers that children have: the ability to turn an everyday object into something amazing. This may be an older child who sees a gun in every stick or a younger child who turns a rock into a mountain or a stump into a stage.
A field of rocks may become a coral reef or a pod of whales. A log may become a bridge, a boat or a wall.
Perhaps it is because children have not yet practiced naming things or seen things enough times to mentally dismiss them as something that has been seen before. Ignoring the obvious is something that adults are very good at because it is a useful skill.
If we paid attention to everything that was happening around us all the time, nothing would ever get done. Every sound, every motion, every object and every smell would cause instant and immediate sensory overload.
And so we learn to ignore things that are always there. We barely acknowledge rocks and roots and other things. We overlook the caterpillars, flowers and beetles. They blend into the background of the world that we have pre-labeled "forest." Unless something radically different happens to make an appearance, many of us don't notice anything else.
This is true except when we are uncomfortable. A person thrust outside of their comfort zone begins to notice every little thing. If it's your first time walking in a forest, the sound of chipmunks running around sounds like an invisible panther stalking you. The sound of squirrels chattering is an unknown menace. A screeching blue jay may sound scary.
My most vivid memory of this experience is from the first time I went camping. Every rustle in the leaves woke me up. Each hoot and screech from an owl spooked me. With no experience to tie those sounds to, it was a nerve-wracking night.
Now, many camping trips later, those sounds are easily ignored and fade into the background noise labeled "camping."
Children haven't learned to do that yet. Most of the world is brand new, and because of it, they are absolutely fascinated with all of it. A walk may take forever and not go far, but the things that are found and invented along the way can make a walk through 300 feet of forest seem like an adventure.
Not everyone has access to kids in order to do this. If you don't, try pushing your own limits.
Go somewhere new or try a new experience. There are all kinds of adventures waiting for the person who is looking for them.
If you want to get outside and have a new adventure, Audubon is the place. There are 5 miles of trails, towers, gardens and places to explore. For more information on Audubon or programs at Audubon, visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345. Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa.
Jeff Tome is a naturalist at Audubon.