The spicy, piney smell of woodland trees wafted through the mellow afternoon sunlight. I sat in a folding chair, listening to the silence of the woods all around me, the happy comments of the kids, and the narration of a bird, far off in the trees down the hill. Breathing deeply, I smiled, letting the peaceful atmosphere seep into my deepest self as I relaxed.
The kids and I ended up in the woods sort of by accident last Saturday afternoon. My daughter had originally asked me if we could go to the swimming pool. To her disappointment, however, it was not yet open for the season (yes, we live in Northern Idaho; last year it snowed in June), so we had to go to Plan B. I suggested an afternoon trip to McCroskey Park, an idea that was met with unanimous approval. The kids love a trip to the woods as much as I do.
McCroskey Park is a strip of land along the ridge of one of Idaho’s granite basalt buttes, rising into the sky above the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse. It was donated to the county by the McCroskey family for future Idahoans to use for recreation and to experience natural wild land. I love taking my kids into the beautiful wilds that we’re so lucky to have here in the Northwestern United States. Wilds that can only continue if the next generation realizes what a precious resource it is to have untrammeled land that exists as it did hundreds of years ago, land that is serene and quiet, and where we can escape for a while from the demands of civilization. Not only did the McCroskey family donate the land, but they established a trust for the park’s upkeep, allowing families like us to use it for no cost, resulting in one of the most frugal afternoon outings I can plan.
When my four-year-old son, Seth, said, “Mommy, I love it here. I love just looking at the sky,” I agreed with him wholeheartedly. We spent the afternoon building a campfire (weeks of rain = low fire danger), roasting marshmallows and hot dogs, and hiking down the dirt road that flanked our camp site. My daughter Natalie, aged 6, wandered around our campsite, taking nature photos of wildflowers and elusive butterflies. We came home smelling like smoke and bug spray, and my son fell asleep in the car. We did our good citizen bit by picking up a few leftover cans and bottles left by careless campers.
Although the pool would have been fun too, Natalie and I agreed that going into the woods instead was a lot of fun. The kids learned more about fire safety and picking up trash to leave our campsite clean for the next people who would use it after us. They learned the names of some of Idaho’s beautiful wildflowers, like the white Syringa, our state flower. Most of all, we were refreshed by spending time in nature, and for only the cost of driving up there.
All over the United States, pieces of land have been set aside so that Americans can enjoy getting out into the natural world for little or no cost. If you don’t have time or supplies to camp overnight, even a day camp like we did allows your family to enjoy nature, and get away from the daily routine. When asked what the greatest threat to wilderness is, Eric Melson of the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation said that one of the greatest threats was future generations not appreciating wild land or understanding how nature can be a resource and enhance the quality of our lives. As part of an effort to raise awareness of the value of wilderness, I’ve been assisting with work on a historical project, preserving oral histories of the people who helped establish the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness for future generations of Americans to enjoy. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to some of the podcasts about the project available at no charge at The Selway-Bitterroot History Project. Another good resource, if you’re interested in America’s wild land, is Ken Burns’s National Parks documentary. Most of all, you can get out there and enjoy the natural world near you, whatever is close and convenient to where you live!
Article by Erin Jepsen
Erin is the mother of a multiracial, multicultural, multi-abled family of 4 fantastic kids. She and her hubby live in a small town in Idaho, where they unschool, play Celtic music and promote gourmet coffee. She learned all about frugal living from her farm-wife grandmother, who repurposed everything, back even before it was fashionable to do so. Erin also blogs at A Number of Things.
Erin has written 9 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.