Mom's instinct about the outdoors was right on

April 01, 2012|Kate Coleman

“Go outside and blow the stink off!”

Those are the words my mother would teasingly hurl at my three-years-younger twin sisters and me if she thought we were missing a pretty day’s fresh air when we were children.

Although she never could have imagined that decades later, people’s — and especially kids’ — disconnection from the outdoors would be the stuff of books and a worldwide movement, Mom’s instincts were right on.

There were no computers, video games or cell phones in the olden days of my youth. There was one television in the house, a black-and-white model in the “recreation room” of our split-level home. We watched more than our share of TV, getting up early on summer mornings to catch a lineup of reruns of 1950s sitcoms and “Little Rascals,” aka “Our Gang Comedy,” which I love to this day.

So what was outside? There were no dramatic vistas or majestic mountains to explore in my neighborhood near the Jersey shore. But there were trees to climb, four-leaf clovers to find and animal shapes in clouds to see while stretched out on sweet-smelling lawns.

The Atlantic Ocean was just minutes away, and oh-so-many summer days were spent on its beaches. My family never traveled to see America’s natural wonders, but I was adequately impressed by nature’s power every time I was pulled under, rolled and tossed gasping on the shore by a big breaking wave.

We played outside. I spent hours on a metal swing set that never would pass safety inspection now. We wore sneakers — all-purpose, flat rubber-soled canvas shoes that our big toes often wore through by the end of summer. We survived their lack of support in the days before athletic shoes were designed for specific activities — walking, running, “aerobics” and so on and so on. We didn’t have anybody telling us to “Just do it.” We just did it.

We played outside — hide and seek and all varieties of tag. Sometimes there’d be an after-supper game of softball, but our sports were far from organized. I rode my bike to friends’ houses. We’d roller skate on our smoothest-on-the-block driveway, and when cold winters froze nearby Franklin Lake, we’d join weekend crowds on the ice.

Ah, the good old days. I fear that “old” is the operative word. But “good” also has import.

I was led to this outburst of nostalgia by the advent of Earth Day — April 22.

Audra Haddock Martenot, now a Hagerstown Community College instructor, was my classmate in Laurence “Larry” Sharpe’s 1987 Introduction to Journalism class at then-Hagerstown Junior College. Recently, she and Rob Owens, president and owner of Eagle Rock Productions, co-produced the conservation film “One With Life.” Last May, she told The Herald-Mail that the film is a story about the Connecting People with Nature Movement. This movement, a national dialogue on the importance of children’s exposure to the outdoors, started in 2006 at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

I watched the beautifully done film. I am encouraged that there are good efforts to get kids outside.

Although she hated bugs, Mom would be pleased.

“One With Life” is helping the Friends of National Conservation Training Center as a fundraising tool to further the conservation efforts of their group and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The DVD is available for free with a $10 donation, plus $2.50 shipping and handling. Go to

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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