Amid the climate crisis, a parent commits an act of hope

Sometimes you need to take a weekend off from worrying about climate change and just go camping with your kid.

 

We were walking along a trail sandwiched into a narrow strip of woods between a row of campsites and the Tucannon River. A pair of girls whizzed past us on bicycles. In a pack on my husband’s back in front of me was our 13-month-old son. It was cool under the trees, but in the moist air along the river, the mosquitoes were out in force. One landed on the baby’s left ear as I watched, and I wondered why the hell we were doing this, but then a veery began singing somewhere nearby, I caught sight of the sunlight glinting on the water through the brush, and for a moment everything felt okay.

This was our first time taking our son camping. Not having any experience doing this with a tiny human in tow, we thought it would be sensible to start small, with a single night at a state park about 30 minutes from our home in southeast Washington. It’s really just a patch of trees by the river surrounded by rippling green wheat fields that would be dry and brown by the end of summer, the campground populated mostly by RVers stopping over on cross-country treks. But in addition to the mosquitoes, it had yellow warblers flying through our campsite, muskrats swimming in a side creek, and a reputation as a good spot for trout fishing. We figured it would do as well as anywhere for a test run of sleeping in a tent with an almost-toddler.

Krystal Quiles for High Country News

It took me a while to decide for certain that I wanted to do this at all. Nothing else in my life is quite as effective as a walk in the woods for calming the clamor of my anxieties or quieting the never-ending to-do list in my brain. I never feel more content, more myself. I want my son to see that part of me, and I hope that a sense of kinship with the natural world might enrich his life as it has mine.

But I worry. By encouraging him to cultivate that same connection, am I only setting him up for a painful future? He’ll live to see the unfolding climate crisis diminish our planet’s living beauty in ways that will be permanent and painful. I’m afraid that by teaching him to love streams full of salmon and woods full of songbirds, I’m betraying him, dooming him to a bitter, grieving adulthood when the streams are empty and the woods are silent. Would I serve him better by spending my weekends, say, volunteering with climate justice campaigns, rather than teaching him to make s'mores and identify constellations and bird songs?

I try to justify it to myself with data. Researchers have found a connection between early experiences in nature and environmental activism later in life; kids who play in the woods become adults who invest their time and energy in taking care of the planet. There’s also evidence that kids who spend time in nature do better in school, are healthier mentally and physically, and are even more generous and altruistic than their peers.

That’s the kind of kid I want to raise. But ultimately, it wasn’t the statistics that made up my mind. It was a feeling — hope. Taking our son camping has become my stubborn way of hanging onto hope that a beautiful future is still possible. So we went to the woods.

“I’m afraid that by teaching him to love streams full of salmon and woods full of songbirds, I’m betraying him, dooming him to a bitter, grieving adulthood when the streams are empty and the woods are silent.”
Cavan Images/Alamy

FOR THE MOST PART, it turns out, camping with a 1-year-old is not particularly relaxing. I struggled to entertain our energetic little boy while my husband put up the tent and made dinner, and later it was a huge relief when, about 10 minutes after we put him to bed, he finally fell asleep. But the weekend wasn’t really about relaxing; it was about setting the tone for the kind of family we want to be.

And we survived. In fact, when we got home the next day — after changing a poopy diaper, coaxing my son to take a nap in his crib, showering, unpacking, and hosing a mysterious sticky substance off our tent — I made a reservation for another night the following month at a different campground. This one was a little further away, at a trailhead for a path along a river up into Washington’s Blue Mountains.

How can I help my son build a strong relationship with something that’s changing before his eyes? How can I tell him to build his sense of self on something that won't be there for him in the same way in five years, 10, 50? I’m still figuring it out. But here’s the thing — change and loss are part of parenthood, too. My son is changing every day, the tiny baby I held last year already gone for good, and I can’t know what the future holds for him. All I can do is try to take good care of him, advocate for him, love him and teach him how to hope. 

Rebecca Heisman is a science communicator and writer who lives in Walla Walla, Washington. Follow her on Twitter at @r_heismanEmail High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.