Outdoors North: Memories of childhood, U.P. wilderness delight

“Whispers of the North, soon I will return again to those endless afternoons in sunshine and in rain.” — Gordon Lightfoot

Many of us can recall halcyon days, often early in our lives, when we were taken into the woods by caring adults who sought to instill a sense of the wild, the wonder and the magnificence of experiencing, first-hand, the splendor and pleasure of being fully-enveloped by the natural world.

If the seed found fertile ground, if the hook was set firmly, memories of these days are now enshrined in the treasured halls of our hearts and minds.

Whether it was berry picking, sleeping out under the stars, hiking, hunting, picnicking, stargazing, fishing or simply walking with our adult companions, the activity itself was likely less important than this early, immersion in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of nature. The activities were the vehicles that got us there.

Remember the cool of the morning, the sound of the stream swirling and gurgling as it rolled by, the beautiful green of tall pines against a bright blue sky or the feeling of a warm, summer rain shower, with its thunder rumbling off in the distance.

Recall the sweet taste of tiny, wild blueberries and strawberries, feeling the wet grass and mud under bare feet, the anticipation of reaching from a submerged rock for a pretty green frog, lying in the tall yellow grasses of a hidden meadow, feeling the soft breeze, hearing the hermit thrush’s flute played over trilliums nodding on the forest floor, the unmatched taste of a homemade sandwich when it’s eaten out there, the clean smell of the stream and the wild roses growing along its banks, the fluttering sound of damselfly wings or the brief, but captivating sight of a long-tailed meteor tumbling through the black night sky.

These amount to just a scant few of the sensations packed into the Great Outdoors.

As we grow older, sometimes, opportunities to experience our relationship with the natural world seem to slip away from us, especially amid the daily pressures and demands of today’s society, our deepening reliance on the entrancing landscape of digital innovation and the whirring slippage of time.

However, nature remains, waiting.

Sometimes we need only remind ourselves that these valuable early experiences we’ve cherished and honored can be regained and relived over and over, and over again — though perhaps now we may be the caring adults seeking to impart nature’s wisdom to children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews of our own.

A long-held popular notion invites us to “Take a Kid Fishing” — an especially fitting idea with tomorrow’s opening day of trout season. That’s just one way to reconnect with the outdoor experience ourselves, and maybe be fortunate enough to introduce some lucky young person to the whole wide world of nature’s wonders for the very first time.

Not that long ago, by this point in April, school kids previously bitten hard by the fishing bug had afforded themselves a cheap fishing rod and reel, picked nightcrawlers in the backyard with a flashlight and coffee can and were waiting quite uncomfortably — like the wait to see what Santa Claus brought — to mount their bikes to ride to the nearest brook trout creek, lake or river.

Once there, many of these youngsters would fish all day, and then do the same thing again the next day, and then again after the school bell rang on Monday afternoon.

Nowadays, the numbers of these kids have dwindled. Like their parents and other adults, kids encounter numerous modern distractions, including digital stimuli.

But again, nature waits, beckoning.

Whether deciding to chase the speckled flash of a wily stream trout, or any number of other outdoor pursuits, do yourself a favor. Turn off the computer, phone and television screens for a while. Step out the door and smell the fresh, springtime air. Feel the warmth of the sunlight. Start to walk or ride.

Get to the woods. Sit on an old stump and reacquaint yourself with those golden days of childhood, those days when we were first taken by the hand and led into the forest to experience those unspoken truths that only nature reveals.

Truths found along a bubbling brook, in a field of black-eyed Susans or under an evening sky painted red, where nighthawks kettle and boom, a place where nature’s signature is written on our hearts — a place we all can be.

Editor’s note: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.