Many of my most powerful memories are linked to places outside. There were some upsides to growing up in northern Canada. The north can be tough, but there is a particular sense of freedom to be found in the vast landscapes.
It’s winter. It’s dark. I am less than nine years old outside in my front yard building snow caves. The snow piles up high through the winter and when the snowplows throw the snow from the road it creates a long hill running across the front of each yard. To a child these snow hills are massive! They are perfect for digging into. With just a shovel you can create your own subterranean snow world of caves and tunnels.
Clad in my snow suit, mitts and boots I feel warm. Lying on my back in the cave I look up at the snow above and the street lights shining down. The street is absolutely still and the bright lights of the street lamps set the endless white of snow-covered yards and streets aglow in a shimmering, sparkling light. The landscape around me is as vast as a tundra.
I feel happy.
In that moment I feel so comfortable. One person lying still and safe in my snow cave with a vast, quiet snow world stretching out in all directions. I am at home. Life is infinite.
This memory of the snow caves has stayed with me all these years. I can feel the vastness of my childhood snow world and see the sparkle of the snow in vivid detail. I’ve often wondered why this particular moment plays so strongly in my memory. Something about the sense of connectedness and the sense of freedom, these are feelings that I still seek. I still love snow and the hushed quality of winter. I love to be alone in nature (even when that “nature” is contained in a small city lot). Reading the, Last Child in the Woods, I can relate to Louv’s call for protection of the freedom to play outside that kids once experienced. Depending where you live it may no longer be okay to let your child dig caves of snow by themselves on dark winter nights. But it is just as important, maybe even more important than it has ever been. To have your own experience of making your own safe place (your snow cave), to watch the world around you from a place that resonates with your soul (sparkling tundras of snow) and to feel at the centre of your being an infinite sense of connectedness and freedom– to do and to feel these things is at the heart of what it is to be human. After all, we are, by the timescale, still 99% hunter-gather. We have a need to express that. As the pace of life and time with screens continues to accelerate in our culture we all need, more than ever, opportunities to ground ourselves in ways that help us feel connected to other humans and the natural world. To do things that lift our spirit in a playful, freeing way. So as the days continue to darken and the busyness of the holiday season rev up our pace even more, let’s save some space for winter play. I bet you could make a really cool snow cave if you gave it a try! You might not be able to leave your kids to play on their own in the snow, but you can initiate the opportunity to play together and then slip back while kids continue to romp (mulled wine in a snow bank, anyone?). Or maybe you’ll all find yourselves laying on your backs, looking up at a winter night sky, feeling infinite. Some true winter magic. In the northern latitudes we don’t usually get quite as excited about welcoming winter as we do welcoming summer, but let me be the first to say– c’mon winter, let’s go play. Happy holiday season! PS. If you need more convincing that play is vital Dr. Stuart Brown’s TED Talk should do the trick: