About the Author

Martin LeBlanc is a leading voice in the movement to reconnect children and nature. For 10 years, Martin was with the Sierra Club, most recently as the National Youth and Outings Director, in which he introduced over 200,000 children to the outdoors and established non-traditional alliances with the military, educational groups and health organizations. He was recently appointed Senior Vice President at IslandWood. A founding Board Member of the Children & Nature Network, Martin now serves as an advisor to C&NN's Natural Leaders Initiative. Martin lives with his wife and young daughter in Seattle.

A WALK ON THE BEACH: Seeing the World Through Amelie’s Eyes

“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

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Comments (10)

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  1. Dave Hawke says:

    Hi Martin,
    Loved your story! This is weird (kinda) as I write a weekly newspaper column about nature (in southern Ontario)and this week I wrote about “listening to children” as a way to re-see the natural world that we adults have glazed over. My cousin lives in San Diego, read my story and sent me this web address. Nice to see there is a shared perspective on kids, nature, writing and education!

  2. Ron Piland says:

    Great article MJ! More and more I believe it’s the adults who benefit most from seeing the world anew through the lens of a young child.
    RP

  3. Elizabeth Muethers says:

    Loved your tale. Have shared many similar moments with my 5 year old niece, Hannah while enjoying Long Island, NY beaches. Children always bring fresh incite to new experiences. Give them opportunities to lead the way.

  4. Terri says:

    This brings back memories of the two walks on Whidbey Island I have been fortunate to share with my daughter. It isn’t just a weekend jaunt for us to travel from Saskatchewan, Canada, but it is well worth the effort to be there hunting in tide pools and climbing on driftwood with my daughter.

  5. What a wonderful post Martin, my daughter turns 3 later this month and has the same wonder for nature, she loves her outside time in the garden & elsewhere, has been to my home town, Cape Town when she was 2 & loved the beaches, sea, parks, Kirstenbosch, gardens & vineyards….soon she will get to know the Peruvian Amazon rainforest where I promote responsible travel.

  6. scott says:

    Great to find like minds reflecting on wilderness experiences. any suggestions for employment in MI. My current employment recedes in the summer and I worked for NWF Wildlife camp in the 80’s and early 90’s. Locally as a resident Naturalist and with other programs. Not over the hill still physically fit but 51 .I’m rectifying my employment to match my skills and interests. I have a BS Env. Studies major in Expedition education.

  7. Pat Kincaid says:

    Martin,
    How wonderful to read about your hiking adventure on Whidbey Island. My husband and I are planning a July vacation with our 11 year old grand daughter to Whidbey with many outdoor adventures included. We are Indiana Hoosiers, but he was stationed at N.A.S. Whidbey Island from 1970 to 1973, when we were newlyweds. We are sure to have many “Wow” moments this year, too.
    Pat Kincaid

  8. Your post made me smile from ear to ear. Memories of my daughter and I hiking and exploring in nature came flooding back. Having children is like experiencing everything all over again through a fresh lens, they are such great teachers! My daughter is now 12, but she still loves being outdoors, (she just prefers to have a friend come along with us now.)

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. I enjoyed this post so very much. I have been so inspired by my own young daughter’s connection to the natural world and it’s ability to bond people together that I wrote a children’s book called “Boppy and Me” set to release this spring. From the time she could walk her grandfather would take her for walks in the woods or by the beach. Our kids desperately need this connection, both with nature and their parents and grandparents. Thank you for writing this!

  10. I loved reading this. It made me think of something my three year-old son said to me the other day while we were out playing. A fairly strong wind was blowing and he said, “I love the wind. I could sleep in the wind”.
    I grew up in the country where playing in the woods, swimming in the river, and skating on frozen ponds were regular activities. I will talk about the benefits of outdoor play and exposing children to nature until I’m blue in the face, because I believe so strongly in it.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her father. :)

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