It’s the season — that time of year, perhaps especially this year, when we consider our ties to others. At C&NN, we’ve often made the case that nature experiences can strengthen family and friendship bonds, and we’ve made it in our family nature guide, Together in Nature, and in Marti Erickson’s fine C&NN Leadership Paper on family bonding. In that spirit, here’s a column I revive occasionally, as I did last year. It’s about a gift that can involve nature, but go beyond it.
One December, I wrote a newspaper column about Linda Evangelist (yes, her real name), of El Centro, California, who did not enjoy shopping.
Linda and the members of her family decided that, rather than buying each other presents, each would write a love letter to the other family members, to be read aloud on Christmas morning. The love letters would list at least twenty-five reasons why the person receiving the letter was loved or valued.
Among the reasons her son Brad (then a teen-ager) gave for loving his dad: “You would bribe me to go get ice cream late at night after Mom went to bed.” Among the reasons her two sons gave for loving their mom: “You come up with weird ideas like this one.” Among the reasons the brothers gave for loving each other: “You rode me on your handlebars to school when I was in junior high,” and “You were considerate enough to put your banana peels under the couch.” And so on.
Christmas morning love lists became a tradition in the Evangelist household—and in other homes, as well. One year, at Christmas time, a talk-show host on L.A. radio station KFI read the column over the air. The idea began to spread. So I decided that my family had better get on board, too.
That year, we sat down and wrote our own Christmas love letters. Our shared experiences in nature were mentioned often. Here are a few items from my love lists.
I listed the following reasons, among others, for valuing and loving my 6-year-old, Matthew: “Every night when I tuck you in, you laugh at my joke: ‘Can I take your glasses off so your nose can grow?’ You like to fish even more than I do. Your enthusiasm for every moment. The way you snuggle. The way you laugh when I give you a belly beezle. You stand up for yourself. You love Rex the Wonder Dog, even when the rest of us have had it with his whining. . . “
Among the reasons I listed in my letter to my son, Jason: “You let me read you bedtime stories, even though you’re 12. You protect your brother even when he irritates you. You make a mess I wouldn’t trade for anything. I can trust your word. You teach me about UFOs and comics. You work hard for a goal. You try to do what’s right, even when it’s hard to know what that is. You treat people with respect. You’re dreamy and imaginative. You like me to watch ‘X-Files’ with you with the lights turned off, and you tape it for me when I’m not home. You love your family. You sing to yourself. . .”
My list for Kathy included: “You gave birth to Matthew and Jason. You care deeply about your patients at work. You’re honorable in every part of your life. I trust you. You don’t pick up my socks. You took care of my mother, and me, when she was dying. You go family camping when you’d rather get room service. You introduced me to the joys of room service. You read better books than I do. The scent of your clothes. The way you look when the covers are wrapped around your face … “
The ones the boys and Kathy wrote to me and to each other were beautiful and funny. Fishing and other family adventures in nature were mentioned, including my propensity to appear to be lost in the woods, and more private things.
We wrote these love lists for a few years. Then the boys were older, and then they were off to college, and now they’re young men on their own. The ritual faded, but not the memories. We keep the time capsules in a safe place, and from time to time take them out and read them. Your family might want to try this, too. It’s just an idea. Life’s short.
Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network and author of eight books, including THE NATURE PRINCIPLE, LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS, and THE WEB OF LIFE, from which this essay is adapted.
Photo: Older son Jason 28 Christmases past.