“There’s the beach, Daddy.” The words may be simple, but the memory they prompted and the actual emotion that filled my body when Amelie said them will stay with me forever. A few weeks ago, on a typically cold and wet winter Saturday in the Pacific Northwest, our family went on an adventure to Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island along Puget Sound. It seemed like a simple outing, but as sometimes happens in our lives, a brief experience gave us a new perspective.
My two-year-old daughter Amelie has been exposed to nature from early in her young life, having taken a few trips to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, as well as an annual camping trip to Hart’s Pass in the North Cascades. She has even had international nature experiences in Western Australia and in the Lakes region of Italy. What came together on our hike that day, however, was truly amazing.
Not only did she display her growing maturity (she will soon turn three), but she also reminded us how a child can absorb and communicate all the beauty our natural world has to offer.
Ebey’s Landing is a national historic site with a bounty of nature provided by a beach full of seashells and critters, and it also has working farms and pastoral landscapes. We started the hike by climbing up from the beach along a single track trail to a bluff. Amelie was sitting in my backpack, and my wife Mandy and our dog Mocha were leading the way. Amelie spotted an eagle above us and exclaimed, “Daddy, look at it fly!” As we reached the top of the bluff, she looked out onto the prairie farmland below and said, “A farm Daddy, look at all the farms!”
As she pointed toward them, Mandy and I looked up. Even though we had taken this hike a half dozen times, we were moved by the full canvas: the combination of the bluff, the beach and the eagle soaring above, Puget Sound as a backdrop, and now pastoral farmland. All of this hit us at once. We paused and I could see a smile appear on both Amelie’s and Mandy’s faces as we continued up the bluff. Along the ridge, Amelie kept pointing out the lagoons below that serve as a barrier between the bluff and the beach, and then suddenly she asked, “Why is the water not moving there and then moving in the ocean?”
While she may have confused Puget Sound for the ocean, she nonetheless was aware of the current and the waves. As we got to the point on the bluff where we headed down, a gust of wind came at us, and I could feel Amelie’s breath take in the cold air and then exhale it. The sound and actual physical reaction of her sigh was something I will never forget. We were truly connected.
We started down the steep embankment, and Amelie held me tightly and said simply, “Wow!” over and over again as the beach went from being a faraway place to something becoming closer with every step.
As we worked our way down, the views of water, sand and sky started to bleed together, and I could feel us becoming closer and closer. When we reached the beach, Amelie wanted out of the backpack. We went as close as we could to the waves and threw rocks into the water, and laughed at the sounds that the rocks made as they splashed. As we finished our four-mile loop along the beach, Amelie was singing about the water, the birds, and the sky. The sunset appeared behind us, a purple hue lighting up the sky, which Amelie pointed out was her favorite color.
After we returned home, Amelie, who was sitting in the bathtub, suddenly said, “Dad, I like hiking. We should do that more.”
* * *
We live in a diverse country, divided in many ways by politics, religion, and differing cultural views. But it is interesting that both First Lady Michele Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush have become advocates for family time spent together in nature. As part of their own experiences, they watched their families connect through nature.
I hope that all of us can take time, no matter what our political persuasion, religion or cultural background, to find more opportunities to connect with our families in nature. During our Ebey Landing experience, Mandy, Amelie and I felt directly how such outdoor adventures can help to make the members of our families, our communities, and even our country more connected with each other.
That day, a simple hike turned technological distractions off and tuned us in to each other. And we felt a deeper kinship.
Photos © the LeBlanc family