In a world of endless — and endlessly mesmerizing — streaming content, the simple act of taking a walk in the woods can start to seem a bit quaint. After all, what is hiking but arbitrarily walking from point A to point B for no practical reason, and with no promise of a riveting payoff? Where’s the compelling narrative arc in that? And how can you even be guaranteed of seeing anything worthwhile along the way? You could go hiking for an hour and instead of catching a glimpse of a single cool animal or stunning vista, you might just see dumb trees and boring rocks. What would even be the point of that? I mean sure, exercise is worthwhile. But you could just go to the gym and burn those same calories while bingeing the latest season of Stranger Things on your smartphone. Surely that would be more dramatically satisfying. Given the choice, who would pick nature over Netflix? And besides, nature has mosquitoes! And rattlesnakes! And humidity!

I jest, of course. Hiking and nature are sacrosanct to me and always have been. But I do sense that a world in which media companies churn out vast amounts of content — enough in one decade to keep a human being occupied for his entire lifetime, I’d guess — is a world in which simple earthy pleasures like exploring nature could conceivably lose their simple appeal. And I, for one, will not let that happen in my family.

So for the last two summers, I’ve taken Greyson hiking every weekend. And I have deeply savored each moment of this father/son bonding time. There is nothing like immersing your curious, nature-loving child in the forest’s endless green sprawl and then watching as their wide eyes and keen ears absorb it all with innocent abandon.


As babies, both Greyson and Violet had (or have) the riveting quality of being utterly calm, quiet, and transfixed when surrounded by nature. I can count on one hand — with a few fingers and possibly a thumb to spare — the number of times when one of my kids fussed as a baby while in the great outdoors. It’s uncanny. So both of our children gave strong indications from the outset that they were nature-oriented. (I would postulate that all babies have this natural inclination, but it must be actively encouraged in order to properly grow.)

For Greyson, this quiet, solemn, observant approach to nature as a baby has now morphed into something much more verbal and hands-on. While we hike together, he often occupies himself by identifying everything he sees and hears, or speculating about what we might see. For instance, he’ll say “Maybe we’ll see a narwhal!” or “Is there a leopard in the woods?” On a few hikes this summer, he took it upon himself to compile an alphabet of nature things while we walked — A is for acorn, B is for bark, C is for cloud, and so on. Or he’ll recite a preexisting alphabet of animals from one of the many ABC books that he has essentially memorized. I must say, it’s not hard to get a child excited about being outdoors when he already has an encyclopedic knowledge of 100s of animals that live out there.


Greyson also loves crouching down close to the earth and looking at everything up close. It’s surprising how many tiny tactile pleasures you can find when you put your face close to the ground and open your eyes a bit. Every patch of moss, every oddly shaped rock, every ant and every anthill, is well worth examining to Greyson. Needless to say, it is a source of endless fatherly delight to witness his fascination with the natural world.

And speaking of tactile pleasure, holding a child in your arms is in the upper echelons of that department. Nothing gives me a more viable excuse to savor holding my (thankfully still cuddly) toddler than hiking up a steep, rocky trail with him. And the Appalachian Trail sections near our house have those qualities in spades — in fact, our state’s section of the trail has been dubbed “Rocksylvania.”

So while I insist that Greyson do some of each hike on his own, in order to feel that vital connection to the earth beneath his little sneakered feet, I am always more than happy to oblige him when he inevitably says “Want Papa to hold you.” (He hasn’t quite mastered his pronouns quite yet, to adorable effect.)


The feeling of holding your child tight, his arms wrapped around your neck like a little koala, is one of the central delights of fatherhood. Since Greyson and I usually hike early in the morning, my still-a-bit-groggy son will sometimes even rest his head on my shoulder too, his breath warm against my neck.

These moments, when we are surrounded by nature and enveloped by love, are priceless to me. These are the moments that I will most acutely miss — and be most acutely grateful that I got to experience — when our kids are grown up. Or even much earlier than that, when they simply don’t want to be held anymore. Until then, I will stockpile tactile memory of these moments in my bones.

I remember hearing “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the first time at my church’s Father/Son Banquet when I was about 15 years old. I was haunted by the song. I don’t think I had never heard anything quite so sad. I remember feeling grateful that my own dad was an ever-present figure in my life. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel that kind of profound regret and disconnectedness with my own father.

If I have anything to do with it — and I absolutely do — my kids will never be able to imagine it either.

Not on my life.


One thought on “Father/Nature

  1. That song is haunting, indeed, and true for way too many kids out there these days. SO many of our current social problems, including the incessant shootings, I think would be way fewer if solid father figures would be there for and loving their kids. I love your perspective on that and your great influence in Greyson’s life. The nature alphabet game sounds fun! Watch out for the narwhals out there in the woods.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s