The outdoors: It’s this label we have for all things natural, all things outside of our realms of control and, even as the name would so obviously indicate, anything outside of our homes, …
The outdoors: It’s this label we have for all things natural, all things outside of our realms of control and, even as the name would so obviously indicate, anything outside of our homes, beyond the door. If you’re like me, having read “The Chronicles of Narnia,” there’s something reverently special about the symbolism of a door. Doors indicate a passing from one world into another, and although we might be lax in recognizing the transition from our indoor world to that of the outdoors, it is something that we must appreciate because not everyone has that magical door.
True, unlike “The Chronicles of Narnia,” this door isn’t some kind of portal to a magical parallel realm, but then again, what is it that makes a world magical? There are those, after all, who dream of being able to get out of their chairs and step outside. There are others, still, who can do so, but the world that greets them on the outer side is an urban extension of what they experience in their own homes. No, the outdoors that we are blessed to have here in the Delaware River valley region, on both sides of the river, consist of adventures, scenic majesties and, for many, a personal and even ethereal connection.
If you have not been so fortunate as to have already created this connection, you can be assured that it awaits your arrival. If you have, then perhaps it has been a while since you’ve engaged in this sacred relationship. As we head towards the winter months, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy perhaps one of the most celebrated seasons of the year in our Northeastern corner of the U.S. As the landscape becomes more barren, just before the colder temperatures and blankets of white descend, it is easy to say that the frivolity of fall has already passed. True, the season for picking apples is nearly at its end, although you can still find some orchards with apples already picked and ready to enjoy. Others, maybe further South, might even have them available to pick with your family. Corn mazes are still in full swing for some of these small farms and orchards, and there are likely a few pumpkin patches left to peruse. But the outdoors aren’t designed to be a touristic carnival attraction. Not everything that you can do in the outdoors to spend time with your family needs to be a structured game or activity catered by small businesses or agri-tourism.
Quite simply, one of the most gratifying activities I now share with my family is walking out in the woods. We sometimes do this out of necessity while taking care of small chores around the homestead or my wife’s family farm. Other times, we get the opportunity to do so for the sheer leisure of it. One of our favorite things to do is bring our young son along for these walks, watching him scamper through the dry leaves and discover small natural oddities and then carrying him atop our shoulders to survey the vast cathedral of towering green columns around us. Allowing our son this unrestricted time to observe and interact with nature not only relaxes us all as a family but also helps to ground and abate the distracting stress borne from everyday challenges.
Beyond the trees, you’ll find an equally edifying force of nature: water. Armed with our fishing rods, we set out to enjoy another great pastime that is still available in late fall. Great for the whole family, fishing is a sport that one doesn’t necessarily need to succeed at in order to receive positive results, nor does everyone need to participate in order to go and have fun. I am blessed with a wife who loves to fish as much as I do, however, for some like my sister and her husband, the fishing is enjoyed by one while the other enjoys the locale of the water and both enjoy each other’s company. Water can be enjoyed in so many ways; it is a common interest of adventurous youth to explore creeks and rivers. There are a number of public launches and bridge areas for investigating shallow waters and getting to know the jungle-like brush and plant life along the banks. Parents can enjoy a stroll and supervise as their children excitedly expel their energy in a number of imaginary scenarios, from treasure hunting to taming the wild. My own mother, being a science teacher and interested in all things biology, was prone to explain the various species we collected and brought back to show her. Freshwater mussels in the river, hellgrammites and other water-loving insects under rocks and, once in a while, a captured minnow in a cup.
Still, though, there are those more practical who would seek a family activity that would be more productive than simply getting out into nature. For these hardworking folks, there is always the task of closing up the home for the winter. While it may not seem like fun or even truly enjoying the outdoors, winterizing one’s home can be a rewarding family bonding activity that brings a sense of accomplishment to all. Part of living out here in the rural countryside is knowing how to take care of home needs that are not a typical part of home ownership in urban or suburban areas. Teaching your children how to complete these tasks can enhance their ability to feel engaged and enabled to live in the country. Splitting wood is a common task that many homeowners need to complete each year before the snow flies. If you have a wood stove, either indoor or outdoor, you will need several cords of wood. While the task could appear daunting, it could also provide the opportunity to teach. There is a lot to know about firewood. What kinds of trees burn the best, or the cleanest? What direction do you split wood in order to follow fracture lines in the wood? How do you stack the wood so it remains dry until use in the winter? There are plenty of ways to participate as well: cutting, splitting, stacking and, as in all chores, cleaning up. While this is not the zen-like walk in the woods that was mentioned earlier, it could very well be the mortar to future relationships, especially between father and son. Draining hoses and emptying spigots to prevent freezing is another winterizing chore. Cleaning out gutters, closing up the tool shed and trimming and organizing the yard for the last time are all necessary parts of preparing for the cold weather that can be made all the more enjoyable by spending that time with family.
Even as chores and hikes are a good way to get out with the family, food is a uniting factor in the way that many seek indulgence. Even now in late October, there are wild berries that can be found in the right places. Fish caught from that trip to the water mentioned earlier can be served up as well with a nice side of vegetables from a local farmers’ market. Sweet baked goods can be cooked up in the kitchen but enjoyed around a cool weather campfire in the evening as a family. And for those who aren’t predisposed to proficient baking, no kid ever complained about the delicious simplicity that is s’mores.
Regardless of how you spend time out of doors, be productive, or make it a special point not to be—either way, step out of that door and enjoy what the countryside has to offer. It may not be a litany of entertainment options like a carnival but, in its own way, it provides more than enough opportunities to edify one’s soul. Even as the snow begins to fly, the outdoors are a never-ending invitation to step out, breathe in and live uninhibited by the walls that surround the indoor world.