We want you to spend time in nature and come away in love with the place. We want your kids to love the grasses, ponds and woods. “We” are the LBJ Grasslands Project, and so far that is Michael Smith and Kayla West. We think time spent in nature is important, and we’ll meet you out there and show you around.
Why is it important? We value your experiences of wonder and fascination, as well as the sense of relatedness, empathy and peace that can come from time spent in nature. In addition, our world needs as many people as possible who have a strong connection with nature. Without that connection, we do not care for the earth around us, and the land, water, and all living things suffer as a result.
The suffering of the earth – the climate, the loss of species, the oceans choking on plastic and carbon, and other issues – is a moral challenge to us and ultimately it threatens human survival. The only answer to it is for us to live in a healthy relationship with all the lives around us. What would such a relationship look like? It would not require us to return to a primitive existence, but it would ask us to weigh our priorities differently. Taking less and giving back are things we do only when we truly care about someone or something.
Meeting people somewhere in nature, introducing them to the community of animals and plants, and finding ways to make the visit playful, memorable, inspiring – that might be a gift to you, but it is surely a gift to ourselves. Sharing places like the LBJ National Grasslands brings considerable joy. It was especially fulfilling to read what Jessica wrote in a letter to the grasslands: “I don’t think any of us play outside enough, and your beauty and diversity inspired such curiosity and creativity in my kids yesterday. I’m grateful.”
Let me spell out a little more about what we are doing. The two of us are naturalists, and that means we know something about living things and places like grasslands and woodlands. We are also really interested in how people benefit from nature and how they can spend time “soaking in” all the details of a wild place, paying attention to sights, sounds, smells, even the touch of the land and water. Some folks get outside because it is a pleasant setting for a picnic or outdoor sports, but when we walk in these places we are focused on any or all of the thousands of things we find – trees, birds, mosses and ferns growing on a shady embankment, clouds, a spider tucked away in tree branches, and so on.
Kayla and I have specialized interests in some species, and you’ll find us documenting some of what we see on the iNaturalist app. However, adding to a big list of species that we have seen is not the main point. You don’t have to have any special knowledge of things like geology or botany to walk with us. The walks we want to lead in the LBJ Grasslands Project are for spending time in the prairies and woodlands and following our curiosity wherever it leads us. Sometimes the emphasis might be on understanding the plants and animals and how they live. At other times we might be interested in practicing mindfulness, with little talking and an emphasis on the direct experience of being present.
Our walks are fairly slow and pretty quiet, with the goal of taking time to really see and hear the place, think about what is going on around us, and cause as little disturbance as possible. A big group would scare the birds, frogs, and other wildlife off, and we might not get much individual interaction with you. Instead of bringing a class with a bunch of people, we go in very small groups, maybe just two to five people. (In the pandemic that we are still struggling with, small groups allow for more distance between participants, too.)
Kids are welcome, as long as they are a pretty good match for the kind of walks I just described. That means that children nine or ten and older are the best fit. Fourteen-year-old Abbey wrote, “I loved the hike, I learned so many things that I wouldn’t learn in school.” If you are interested in bringing younger children, please talk with us and perhaps we can arrange something that will engage them and be meaningful for everyone.
I should also mention that we do not charge for these walks, which we do just because they needed doing and because we get intangible rewards for doing them. If this interests you, please join the Facebook group for the LBJ Grasslands Project, https://www.facebook.com/groups/lbjgrasslandsproject, where we talk about these things and plan future outings. If you don’t do Facebook, I would be happy to hear from you if you email firstname.lastname@example.org.