Mother: Nature. Thanking Mom for Being Field Guide-Fisherwoman

Perhaps in this I am not alone: I owe it to my mother that I am and always have been a country boy. I have always been the most complete me when I was plugged into nature.

And then, I must have come with the tendency from the cradle, since she reminds me how, before I could walk, I resisted coming back inside, once I was under the sky in the outdoors.

I had no male influences to guide me towards a lifetime of tree-hugging or flower photography or environmental connection of any kind.

My father in his short tenure never once took me fishing or baited a hook. Mom did many times. And she  came by her outdoor affinities, at least in part, by the legacy of her father, who preferred to be outdoors during his short life before an early death while hunting. I never knew him, of course. I am certain we would have shared so much.

Who can really say why they come along to embrace some things and grow indifferent to others. Nature or nurture?

In my case, if there was any nurture towards nature, those influences came from my mother.

She grew up in the city suburbs of Birmingham, but she claimed she was born with “country”  in her blood. She too had influences in that direction, her hunting-fishing father being one, and his rural (or were they her mother’s?) family, another. They kept pigs (we visited once when I was very young, those creatures seemed the size of dinosaurs!) That part of our extended family were very very “country” as mom describes them, living in a rural part of Alabama.

Mom grew up going to summer camp. She put me on the same bus to the same camp first time when I was ten. Winnataska became a regular summer feature several years as a camper, then junior leader, senior leader and finally as summer camp staff. There was not so much nature taught there as nature learned by immersion. The smell of pine woods even today takes me back to the banks of Kelly Creek.

I could have been nurtured by other mothers who would not have indulged my passion for fishing, for picking blackberries or throwing rocks or building forts on the power company acres behind the house. She could have resisted (and she did at first, as I recall) my having a gun of any kind–a simple single-shot B B gun that kept me outside for countless hours.

So maybe it would be best said that my mother indulged and encouraged innate tendencies I was born with to move towards a relationship with nature that has lasted me all my life, and which has shaped it significantly, and enriched it profoundly.

So this Mother’s Day, if you can look back and see your mother either encouraging or indulging your tree-hugging, bird watching, bass fishing, flower-photographing or backpacking urges in your youth, thank her.

And if you have young children about, become for them their field guides.  Lead them to natural places nearby where their curiosity, their senses and their energies can find adventures without batteries. Plug them in now to that world, and some day they will thank you for it.

Thanks, mom!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. To the extent that nurture shaped you, your mom really gave you the best gift of your entire life, didn’t she? The gift my mom gave me was equally significant: she coerced Dad to send me to a good private school, and that education shaped my entire life. I never got tired of thanking for it either!