“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
- John Muir
Confession: I am your typical suburban parent.
My husband and I scramble to pay for the school we think best suits our daughter’s needs. We spend much of our time running her around to after-school activities that range from art lessons to skateboard classes.
We schedule play dates with her friends. We leave her downtime for herself. We cherish her. We fawn over her. We try our best to see that she’s exposed to everything from theater to museums to doing good works. But until this week, we’d never taken her to a national park.
I am here to say, “My bad.”
And here’s why. I recently learned first-hand that my daughter does not need lessons, classes, the “right” activities and even cultural events to be happy. Just give her a pile of rocks, a running river, a forest of trees and, just for good measure, throw in one of the most stunning vistas in the world.
We spent the week at Yosemite National Park.
For those of you who’ve been there, you know the long tunnel you take coming into the park from the southern entrance along Highway 41? The one that ends in the picture perfect Ansel Adams view? When my 8-year-old saw that view for the very first time, her eyes grew wide, her mouth dropped open and then she squealed “Oh my goodness!”
Now my daughter can usually be counted on to be a great kid but Yosemite brought out the best in her. The girl who takes her scooter or bike the two blocks to our local park because walking is “boring” hiked for miles with nary a complaint.
The child who can be intimidated by the regimentation of group sports joined a group of kids she’d never seen before and spent an hour scampering over rocks and boulders. Out in the wilderness there was no competition, no parents yelling encouragement from the sidelines, just good old-fashioned fun and the pure joy of learning by doing.
My daughter’s favorite Yosemite moment? When we got stuck on the wrong side of the stream at Yosemite Falls and had to make our way over to the boardwalk by stepping on stones and logs in an effort to keep our feet dry. When she fell in and got her shoes soaked, my can-be-a-drama-queen daughter just laughed and pronounced it the best part of her day.
And what were the best parts of my day? Watching a kid who can’t sit still in the classroom (the daily phone calls from the teacher have given me a permanent stomach ache) slowing down, taking everything in, drinking up nature like it was an elixir.
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv writes about the restorative powers of the outdoors, especially for a child like mine who finds the routine and structure of a classroom pure torture. When we left for the park, my husband and I weren’t sure what her reaction would be. Had we raised a child who was more excited by the indoor pool at Tenaya Lodge than by the natural world?
No need to worry. The indoor pool was a marvelous treat. As was the exquisite lunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel. But in the end, God’s classroom won out.
We hoped it would. We knew it did when, as she stared at the thundering waters of the Merced River, she asked, “Do you think we’ll ever see another river as beautiful as this?”
You bet, baby girl. You bet. There are 57 other national parks to explore. And we’ll always have Yosemite.
By Jamie Simons for PeterGreenberg.com.
Read more from Jamie’s Grateful Traveler series here.
Don’t miss these great articles exploring America’s National Parks:
- America the Beautiful: Five Hidden National Parks
- America the Beautiful: Five More Hidden National Parks
- Spotlight on America’s National Parks: Ken Burns’ Best Idea?
- The “Grand Dame” Hotels of Our National Parks
- Yellowstone National Park: Hot(ter) and Bothered
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Yosemite National Park
- Travel Video: Great Lesser-Known National Parks
- Tip: National Park Passes
- America the Beautiful: Hike America’s Trails