When my daughter Evelyn was smaller, she would go to bed every night for months smelling like summer: like outdoors and sunshine, with a hint of dried peach juice.
She was only two, so it wasn’t weird if I buried my nose in her hair as she fell asleep. Also, bathing two-year-olds is overrated.
She smelled like wholesome afternoons. She smelled like activity and nature, of finding your place in the great wilds of creation.
She hadn’t really been anywhere outside our walled-in backyard, but let’s not dwell on technicalities.
I love hearing other people’s memories of their childhood summers, the ones that involve running around in a creek all day and catching fireflies in the dusk. Maybe a line of cousins would lean against the old porch and have the mud hosed off their feet before falling into bed at night.
I don’t have those stories myself, or a creek, or a porch, or fireflies, just a sort of quiet longing.
I wish we were in nature more.
I wish we had more wild places to explore.
There is a creek in the next town over, but getting there requires a car trip and packing a bag. By the time all those car seats get buckled, the minivan starts driving to the library on autopilot.
I just wish there were green hiking trails and trees and wildflowers at the end of the lane. I don’t want nature to have to be an ordeal.
The only thing is, I need wilderness with no bugs or bites.
Well, that, and no snakes. And no giant piles of dog poop.
I’d like hikes, the kind that didn’t ever require first aid kits. The kind that never end in bruised shins and scraped knees. Or hunger. Or thirst. Or cranky, weary children.
Also, since we’re making a list: no things to carry. No backpacks full of sunscreen and bug spray and water bottles and lunches that turn out, inevitably, to be squashed and unsatisfying anyway.
I could do with fewer “treasures,” by which I mean empty snail casings and sun-dried dung that someone has handed to me for identification purposes.
And no wet socks.
The only thing worse than hiking with wet socks would be taking them off to hike sockless. We cannot overcome wet socks. Oh, or muddy socks! Or socks all covered in prickly burrs.
It would be great, too, if nature had clean, well-stocked bathrooms. I don’t think this is too much to ask, given that so few people would use them. I wouldn’t need a bathroom attendant handing out fingertip towels or anything, but would good lighting really be so difficult?
(Wait, all those former kids with their summertime memories—were they peeing in the creek all day? I have never considered this before.)
So… it does not happen for us much.
The nature, I mean. And when my kids really do play in a creek, even for just an hour on a hot afternoon, I make them shower off the mud and algae and moss and who-knows-what-else the minute they get home. Creek germs: ew.
That isn’t my jam, then. “Last child in the woods,” we are not. (I have six kids. If one of them is the last child in the woods, it means I forgot to do a head count before driving away. Not good.)
Instead we pitch the pop-up tent in the backyard.
We don’t sleep out there, but I am considering investing in a freestanding fire pit for s’mores.
And when all we’ve done all day is play in the backyard under the jacarandas, they can take that dirty hair and sunshine to bed with them.
Because here’s the deal: I think I want more nature, but what I really want is to not have to wash any hiking clothes. At least for now. (Not forever. But until the kids can wash their own socks, maybe.) This is a good realization to have, even if it does not involve any fireflies.
That pull in my heart is not telling me to go live in a yurt.
That longing for nature? I think underneath it’s a longing for contentment, for simplicity, for connection to a deeper reality than the one on my screens. For now, I can find that even in places that have indoor plumbing.
And I won’t even have to pack a lunch.
Originally published June 11, 2015