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Stories from the valley

Hooking our Kids on Nature

Contributed by Paul Buttner

I recently had another cherished opportunity to traverse northward through the Sacramento Valley for a camping and fishing trip to Shasta with my son, Sean. Now transitioning from a boy to a young man of 12, I was constantly reminded of what a fond appreciation he has for the natural world. Unknowing to him, his enthusiasm and love for all living things served as a time machine for me—taking me back to the exceptional connection with nature I also had when I was his age. Yes, the gift of loving the natural world. I’m convinced that some is in our DNA, but the rest comes from the experiences our parents took the time to give us. The ultimate antidote for screen time. In fact, Sean’s phone arrived to the campsite completely dead and he never once asked to charge it for our whole five-day trip.

I previously blogged about Sean climbing into the camper just to bring Sibley’s Guide to the campfire to look up birds and play scientific bird name trivia. I peered across the flames that night, amongst the half-eaten s’mores, at a budding naturalist. This year he told me he does not like the word “nature.” When I asked why he said, “Because it’s the generic word used by people who have never really experienced all this.” Then I realized that, to some degree, he is right.

On this trip, he was pointing out wildlife at every curve of the country roads and each beautiful cove on Shasta Lake where we tried to get a fish to rise. Our wildlife checklist was vast. Walking down to join Sean waiting in our boat he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Dad! You just missed a family of merganser ducks!” We went on to see bald eagles and osprey fly right over our heads. In all, our list included scores of other birds, deer and a beautiful black bear. “Oh Dad!” Sean said with a smile from ear-to-ear, “That is the first bear I’ve ever seen in a completely natural environment.” I’ll add this to my treasure chest of lifelong memories with him as we have explored the great outdoors together.

On the way back through the Sacramento Valley, Sean said to me “Dad, I really like these long drives.” I chuckled and asked him why. He then replied, “Well, I get to see all these great open spaces and farmlands I don’t normally see at home.” I suddenly realized that he said better than I ever could. The Sacramento Valley and its surrounding wilderness areas are a treasure to behold. It is truly a special place where wildlife and farming coexist just beyond Sacramento’s backyard. A place to recreate, cultivate and appreciate. Oh, and don’t forget to bring the kids!