This blog post was written by DOC’s Communications Advisor for the Hauraki Waikato Taranaki region, Jeff Neems. He recounts how he – and his family – have benefited from letting nature in.
“Our challenge isn’t so much to teach children about the natural world, but to find ways to sustain the instinctive connections they already carry.” – Terry Krautwurst, American writer
Our family is not what you might call “outdoorsy”.
We do not go camping. We definitely do not go tramping. We don’t go hunting (other than for bargains in the supermarket), and we don’t go fishing.
We certainly don’t ski, snowboard, or do anything involving icy mountain slopes which may result in an ACC claim. Nor do we surf or go swimming, for that matter.
But we do love nature – walking along beaches collecting shells and kicking sand, watching birds out our kitchen window, a stroll along the banks of the Waikato River and the occasional walk in the forest. We like nature documentaries, picturesque natural landscapes, and the sights and smells of spring growth.
Like the vast majority of New Zealanders during the COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, our family of six – two “seasoned” adults, two young women, and two small boys – was stuck at home. We couldn’t go anywhere, other than a walk around the block, a bike ride, or a leisurely walk through Hamilton Gardens.
Our daily exercise was our solace, and nature was the place we went for it – an escape from the boredom of home, a respite from the grind of trying to retain a sense of normality in very abnormal circumstances, with increasingly grim predictions emanating from every news media outlet in the land.
The lockdown experience of our family was shared by many others, and is one of the reasons the Department of Conservation has chosen Nature Through New Eyes as its theme for Conservation Week 2020.
It’s about slowing down, soaking up nature’s benefits to our individual well-being, and taking time to enjoy the natural world’s endless wonder. It’s about breathing, looking, feeling, touching and being in nature in a time when very little in our civilization seems at all certain – apart, perhaps, from nature itself.
One of our staff, an expert in Te Reo Māori, translated “nature through new eyes” for us. “He tirohanga hou ki te taiao”/“A new way of viewing nature” he delivered, taking time to point out a literal Te Reo Māori translation of this year’s theme wouldn’t have made a great deal of sense.
At the crux of all this is a simple notion – that nature makes you feel better.
Despite the fact I am very much a “city person” the Conservation Week 2020 theme resonated strongly with me. It reminded me of a commitment I gave my two boys, Eli (8) and Amos (6): I’d promised, we would go on more little forest adventures, exploring the natural world the Department of Conservation manages on behalf of all New Zealanders.
So, in early June, once safe to do so: I kept my promise, and bundled the little fellas – nervous and a little confused, as they were – into our family van and headed for Pirongia Forest Park, which I can see from my office window most days.
Reliable sources inside DOC informed me the Mangakara Nature Walk was kid-friendly, easy to access, and wouldn’t put my dodgy left knee under too much pressure.
It was a magical little afternoon adventure, punctuated by bird song, the rustle of the wind in the trees, and the gentle “woosh” of perfectly clear mountain water running down a beautiful forest stream. The boys dashed about excitedly, reading the little information signs, gazing at the colourful stones in the streams, and busily comparing the size of the tawa, miro and kahikatea trees to authoritatively determine which one was the largest. There was plenty of looking at the forest canopy, and one or two trees were even hugged by small loving arms.
More than an hour passed as we strolled through the forest on well-formed tracks, amid majestic native bush. Part of me didn’t want to leave, but the sun was dropping in the sky at the same rate as the temperature, the shadows of the trees were getting longer, and small stomachs were grumbling.
We’d read all the signs, compared a bunch of native trees, failed to find any fish or frogs in the streams, but we’d breathed fresh mountain air, felt the crunch of fallen leaves and pebbles below our feet, and admired the sheer green-ness of the forest.
The boys hadn’t argued once: they’d dashed ahead to read the next sign, see the next bend in the stream, or stand on the next big rock. There was a feeling of wonder and enthusiasm on their little faces that filled my heart with joy, and just for a short while, made me forget my worries and the frustrations of adult life.
As we drove down the mountain road, headed back to the city, Eli had something on his mind.
“Papa,” he asked, pausing for a moment to form his question properly.
“I liked the forest. It was really nice. It made me feel good. Can we go again?”
I must admit I was choking up a bit, unable to say too much in response.
“Yes mate,” I mumbled, “yes, of course, we can. That’s what it’s there for, to make us feel good.”
Immerse yourself in nature this Conservation Week – online or offline – and embrace what’s always been there. Look, listen, breathe and feel.
Take time to explore your relationship with nature and enjoy its benefits – connecting with nature is good for us. Papatūānuku’s wellbeing is our wellbeing.
If you can spend time in nature, please do so safely and sensibly, and in line with the COVID Alert Level rules for your area.
If you can’t get out in nature, join us for some great nature experiences on DOC’s digital channels.