On the hiking trail with Rachel Carson - early connections with nature


I just got back from a work retreat with the rest of our wildlife team out in Montana and among many other things we discussed early childhood experiences that influenced our personal connections with nature. Everyone had an immediate response, but what was interesting to me was how simple and close to home the experiences were – from watching bugs in the backyard to visiting the American Museum of Natural History as a kid.  I have written before about wanting to make sure that my children grow up with a connection to nature despite living in a relatively urban setting so hearing my colleagues’ experiences was another reassurance that nature can inspire no matter where you are.

It is still true, a year later, that my son is naturally curious about bugs and birds and prefers climbing the trees that surround our neighborhood park to the playground itself.  But we also still try to make sure he gets a good dose of the outdoors – away from the human inventions that typically define our daily life.  Finding a nice, undisturbed area without driving too far in the metropolitan DC area can seem like a challenge, but fortunately we have found a few hidden gems.

Our current family favorite is the Rachel Carson greenway which runs north-south both within and outside the beltway.  Tucked away literally behind a Trader Joe’s parking lot, stepping onto the trail is like stepping onto the other side of CS Lewis’ wardrobe – you immediately leave the nearby traffic behind and find yourself surrounded by a natural wonderland. It’s an oasis for nature and nature-lovers alike and it’s as convenient as a trip to the grocery store.  Now when we go to restock on Cat Cookies my son will say, “Can we take a little hike back in those woods?”


I love that this greenway has been preserved so that I can enjoy it with my kids and I love that it’s named after an environmental hero who broke the silence that nature is not impervious to human activities.  It’s a fitting reminder on each trip that we take down the trail.  And I hope that when my kids grow up and are asked about their early childhood experiences with nature, they will think back to these ‘little hikes’ behind the grocery store parking lot.  But at least if they don’t, I know I will.