Back to Our Roots: Connecting to the Outdoors Connects Me to Family

The author, her mother and her grandfather.
The brisk chill of the early mornings in Washington, D.C. before the city becomes occupied by thousands of footprints, beeping horns, and the air is tainted with smoke and smog makes me reminisce about the breaking dawns of my childhood—mornings greeted with my grandfather handing me a cup of chocolate tea and a fishing rod.

Born in Jamaica, my grandfather loved the outdoors. Who wouldn’t love it, in a place where the deep blue color in the ocean isn’t an optical illusion and there is no need for Vitamin D tablets—a walk along the palm tree lined streets or a stroll along the beach is all you need.

I used to ask him when I was young why he had so many muscles because he didn’t go to the gym. He used to look at me, laugh, gesture to the outdoors and say “why would I go to a gym?” Why indeed.

My grandparent’s garage wall was filled with tools and fishing rods for all their grandchildren—and there were a bunch of us.

The drive to the docks were always the most fun, all of us kids crammed into a car with our heads hanging out the window taking in the smell of the early morning and noticing the change in the air as we got closer to the water.   As soon as we arrived we would all spring out of the car like Jack-in-the-Boxes itching to be the one who brought in the first catch of the day.  We were like little sailors (minus the boat) lined up on the dock taking in the sweet salty smell of the water and watching the sun rise higher and higher in the sky. Nothing used to beat those mornings with my family outside—well, maybe the fish dinner that my grandmother would make that evening.

My grandparents were sustainable before it was cool.

Whether we were picking callaloo and mint from their enormous backyard garden or fishing on the dock or swinging from the handmade swing my grandfather fashioned for me from their largest tree—the outdoors was always a place where family and adventure intertwined.

What Has Changed

Many years have passed since those family outdoor adventures, and it saddens me that pollution has stopped my grandfather from being able to take my younger cousins on the fishing trips I once enjoyed so much. Unfortunately, it’s not just pollution that has kept them from the outdoors—today kids spend on average 7-10 hours plugged into electronics and just minutes in the outdoors.  Where I used to make up stories and find mystery under stones or within the limbs of trees, they seek out video games and the television to entertain themselves.

Did I watch TV as kid, sure! But I never did find a show or game that provided me with the joy that the feel of a fishing rod in my hands; sight of the sun glistening off the water; and the burst of giggles at the first catch of the morning ever gave me.  Nope, there is no screen that has ever given me more excitement as a kid or adult for that matter, than the sound of a screen door swinging open to the adventures that await me in the outdoors.

To learn more, take a look at Kristy Myers’s five tips for spending time in nature with your family, see our Outdoors and Family Channel for easy outdoor activities or check out how you can get involved in NWF’s Be Out There campaign to connect kids with nature.