Love and Nature

I grew up in an era before iPhones, before the internet, and before helicopter parenting. In other words, I was one of the lucky ones.

In the summer of 1986, my family moved “below the canal” (south of the Delaware stretch of the Chesapeake Canal) to a developing neighborhood that was being built on a house by house basis. We were one of only a handful of houses that had been built by the time we moved in, so most of the lots were just wildflowers and meadows.  Outside of the neighborhood site, there was nothing but farmland for miles.

I was eager (read: desperate) to make new friends. I had preschool friends up until that point, but preschool was only half day back then; so most of my life was still spent at home. My sisters were both 4 and 7 years older than I was, so they were gone most of the day. My mom only let me play in the fenced 1/4 acre backyard of our old house up until we moved below the canal, so turning 5 and living in our new house meant new found freedom, with friends, outside. 

RC Peoples was the name of the construction company that was building the our new development. A point of fact that always enraged my dad, RC Peoples took every new homeowner’s topsoil before their move-in date and removed it to a big, empty lot in the center of the neighborhood. For my dad, it meant for years he tried to grow grass to no avail. To me, it meant: the dirt hill. 

As you can see, the lawn was lacking.

Now the “dirt hill” spanned several acres and it was just diagonally across the street from my front yard. It was basically a small, Delawarean mountain range. If you know the topography of Delaware, you know that phrase is oxymoronic. But for all of my 5 year old intents and purposes, it may well have been my own personal Himalayas. 

I was thrilled to have so much glorious space to explore and play outside. Now all I needed was some friends who wanted to share adventures. 

After a failed foray or two into trying to befriend some exclusive cousins who lived down the street, I had almost given up hope on making any neighborhood friends. 

But then one day, a flicker of movement caught my eye from out my second story bedroom window. Across the street, a white station wagon pulled into the empty 2 acre lot. Suddenly, 5 kids, all under the age of 13, emerged. It was like a clown car, but instead of creepy clowns, it was full of friends for life!!!

My best childhood friend, Kimberley, and me. I’m the one on the right unabashedly rocking suspenders and a collared shirt.

I flew down the stairs, out my door, and ran over to meet them. “Hi, I’m Lindsay. I live across the street” I said to the mom, who was holding a baby (future friend in the making and their 6th child). 

She went on to tell me that her husband was going to build them a house on that lot. 

And over the course of the next year or so, that is exactly what he did. As they were building it and ever after during my childhood there, I had a pack of friends from that family. 

We hit it off immediately. They had moved from Chester (an urban area of Pennsylvania), and they were thrilled to have unfettered access to real, unadulterated dirt. A seasoned country girl myself at this point (I had a couple month’s jump start on them), I showed them the ropes. 

As the months went by, more kids moved into the neighborhood and joined our pack. We were very inclusive as those early days with the mean cousins left a mark on me. I always felt that I had been elected as the unofficial leader of my neighborhood pack, so I tried to infuse my friend group with the values I held dear. Inclusivity, authenticity, and some good, old fashioned anti-government sentiments I had heard from my dad were my hallmarks. I remember complaining to my friends that the government “had no right to brainwash people into thinking that pink was for girls and blue was for boys. Color has no gender.” I guess I was also trying to throw in some anti-capitalism. Once I symbolically ripped up a dollar bill and threw it to the wind saying, “we will not be slaves to money! We will live freely and fully and never bow to the dollar!” Or something along those lines. I remember one of the kids ran around collecting the pieces and taped it back together. But most of them nodded in agreement (probably to hurry me along so we could get on with our planned game of kickball).

We created and shared a world together, all outside.

We made the dirt hill our haunt. We built forts. We swam in the giant holes that the backhoes had dug (I’m sure this was unsafe, but we survived). We picked berries and ate them (some were toxic, most were not but our rule was one of anything wouldn’t kill us…except mushrooms). We climbed trees and went exploring for acres and acres through the neighborhood and the surrounding farm land. The land surrounding the dirt hills became a make shift baseball field. All the kids in the neighborhood would gather and play. Sometimes fights would ensue. In fact, sometimes, the “game” was essentially fighting for fun (throwing mud balls made from the stolen top soil) at each other until there was only one last person standing, mostly uninjured and the least muddy. 

Another “game” we’d play was one where we’d see who could ride their bike the longest and farthest with their eyes closed without crashing…or, more likely, before crashing. We usually had the presence of mind to designate one kid as the look out for cars. In the event that there was a car, their job was to yell “CAR!!!” so that everyone would open their eyes. Then there was another game on our bikes called “crash landing” whereby we’d ride our bikes as fast as possible down a straight stretch of the neighbor street, and then—at full speed—jump off the bike and crash with as much pizzazz as possible. Of course we’d all rate the crash on a 10 point rating scale. When we got even close to bored, we’d make up imaginary stories and role play as characters in those stories. We’d put on dance performances for our parents in the backyard to Paula Abdul’s hit album, Forever Your Girl. And in the rare event that no one was in the mood for any of the aforementioned activities, we had a shared imaginary friend named Synergy. We communicated to her in claps.

Day after day, throughout the whole school year, we’d play outside as much as possible. We’d get home from school, get a snack, and run outside. From sun up until sun down in the summer, we’d play our hearts out. We’d only go inside when our parents would call us inside for mandatory meals—and then eventually, for bedtime. At dusk, in the summer time, you could hear parents hollering their kids’ names from porches all throughout the neighborhood. When your name was called, you jumped up without ceremony and said, “see you tomorrow!” and then go inside, bone tired, dusty, and with a heart full from living the best day of your childhood–until the next day when that day would be as good or even better.

When I think of the deep connection that I have to nature and to people, I know that a lot of it comes from those days with those friends. 

When we lived in Vermont, my kids had a similar experience with their neighbor friend (if you call a half mile hike over the cobble to her homestead ‘neighboring’). The first time Addy came to our house to play, she emerged from the woods with a chicken in a diaper. Absolutely legendary. A lifelong friendship was born.

A couple years and many adventures later, during the height of covid, the three of them bubbled up and spent months upon months, all year, building a world of their own outside. The fall of 2020, they built “Kidlantis” a settlement at an undisclosed location somewhere on either our land or Addy’s where they built shelters and would keep a bonfire burning all day. They’d come home at night, covered in soot, faces beaming. I knew they were living the best possible childhood. They’d come inside some days in the winter to fill empty milk jugs with gallons of water. They’d load up their sleds and haul the water to the top of the mountain. It was cold enough that winter that upon contact with the snowy road, the water would freeze solid. They built an ice slide this way to make sledding go even faster. Eric, (who I mentioned in my first article) would plow the hill just right for sledding at the steepest and best stretch. He’d make snow banks on the sides of our road so, essentially, they had a bobsled track. Some winter days after a fresh snow, they’d track coyotes through the woods to their dens. Other cold winter days, they’d ice skate on the pond. 

After a day at Kidlantis

In the summer, they’d swim in that same pond, build forts, play with the animals (once there was a bunny wedding), make zip lines for their guinea pigs (no animals were harmed), or occasionally go exploring in the nearby (a mile away) barn to look for new barn kittens. Some days, Collin and I would build a bonfire at 9:00 at night (it stays light there late in the summer because of how far north it is), and we’d sit by the firelight *still* waiting for our kids to come traipsing back home, emerging through the woods with smiles and bug bites and dirt all over their limbs. Sometimes we wouldn’t know much about how they spent their day until was safely in the past— that they had fallen down ice cliffs, gotten lost, or that someone had gotten mildly injured. Getting into scrapes and getting back out of them is some of the best work one can do in childhood. 

The three friends’ last bonfire before we moved.

It was heart wrenching to say goodbye to Addy. 

When we moved back here to Topanga, I didn’t know how they would keep their nature connection or if they’d have any way to share adventures outside with friends.

And then one day we learned that another homeschooling family with two kids exactly my kids’ ages lived across the busy Topanga Canyon Boulevard from our house. As it turns out, there is a tunnel right down at our creek that goes under the boulevard and comes out right onto these friends’ quiet, little street. For the past year and a half, our kids have gone on to have adventures outside, building forts, exploring the woods and trees, and creating a world for themselves of adventure and beauty in the Oak Woodlands of Topanga. For the last three months, the boulevard was closed and the traffic was greatly diminished—thus leaving the primary song of the canyon sung by frogs and birds rather than Lamborghinis and crotch rockets. The four canyon kids made the most of these quiet months, spending even more time outside traveling back and forth between the tunnel and roaming their territory. But then, the boulevard opened just as these friends moved out of the canyon.

The four canyon friends walking down the closed Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

When I think of all these years of my kids’ childhoods so far, I am grateful that they have those wild, unsupervised nature experiences deep in their beings. No matter what trials other phases of life dishes out for them, that deep nature connection and those deep friendships forged in childhood—through all those adventures on the land in Vermont and Topanga—will serve as a deep well of trust in themselves and the process of life itself.  

Likewise, for myself, there’s a deep and satisfying connection I will always and only get from spending the bulk of my days outside, living in relationship with the land. I crave a relationship with nature where I live my days immersed in it, spend my time working with it, and invest my energy in relating to and with the plants, animals, water, dirt, and rocks…it connects me to the truest part of myself.

There are crossroads in life where one must decide what the core guiding values are at the center of their souls. Love and nature are my Polaris and Southern Cross. With them, I find my way.

May you find your stars, even if all other lights go out, to guide you home.

Peak childhood.
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2 Responses to Love and Nature

  1. Judy Palkovitz says:

    I love this. Thank you for the expanded glimpse into your childhood. So easy to see your spirit across the years, and with all the changes, how your solid core will always be there.
    I also love seeing how things trickle down through the generations. Finding adventure and beauty around us.

    • Lindsay Palkovitz says:

      Thank you for reading, Judy! And yes, I haven’t changed too much 🙂 I’m always looking for some bit of nature to enjoy and friendships that are equal parts fun and exploration of the mysteries of the universe 🙂

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