When I think of me being a kid, something I’ll claim to always be, my mind leads me to memories of outdoor adventures across southern Idaho and central Minnesota. Chels and I would play Tom and Huck or Pocahontas for hours and tell my dad, “Don’t worry. If we get lost and have to ‘live off the land’ for awhile, we’ve got it covered.” I am pretty impressed by the confidence in survival ability we had at such a young age! However, as we got older and make-believe adventures weren’t so amusing, we began to take our “nature walks”. Now, nature “walk” has a wide meaning. “Walk”, of course, means to walk but it can also include modes like hiking, biking, or driving as long as your main agenda is to get outside to be in nature and create your own adventure. So nature walks with my mom are usually less-strenuous, scenic strolls that double as dendrology lessons and end with a picnic. Now nature walks with my dad, on the other hand, are more of an adventure challenge usually beginning with us trekking up mountains—packs full of Cliff bars—and ending with us humbly admitting that we underestimated yet another hike. Both are wonderful just the same and one of the things I miss most from home. So last week I decided to incorporate a nature walk into one of our English classes. Lately the girls have been working on personal projects—writing letters, stories, poems, or plays. Some had finished early so Mag and I decided to split the class into two—those who were finished and those who needed more time to work. While Mag helped the ones in class, I took a group of nine girls outside on our nature walk.
I quickly gave up my rank as “leader” and let the girls navigate through the grounds of the school, gardens, farms, and fruit trees. To practice English, I had them narrate as we walked. We all learned a lot that day! I learned about the farm animals, the plants they grow, the things they cook (i.e. How to make ugali!), the traditional games they play, and my absolute favorite: the different fruit trees they grow. I sampled mangos, suku, buni, and avocados. The mangos were the best, although they weren’t ripe, and I let the girls know that they are one of my favorite fruits. After this bit of information, they made it their principle objective to find me the ripest mango they could. I’ll try to explain their fruit-picking strategy:
First, you must find a mango tree. Easy enough, there are mango trees all around the school. Then, search the ground underneath the tree for stones. Collect the biggest ones you can find and put them into your pocket. After everyone has enough ammunition, you line up around the tree and start haphazardly chucking your stones into the air with hopes of hitting a mango on the head or rattling the branches they cling to. As an extra challenge you have to dodge the falling rocks that the girls on the opposite side have sent up. The goal is to hit the ripest mangos… or in my case any at all… to make them fall from the tree. My first attempt was awkward. I threw my stone straight up into the air and missed the entire tree. The girls thought it was the funniest thing they had seen all day and laughed and laughed. Of course, I took it in stride and tried again (I had to redeem myself). On the second try I hit the branches but no mangos fell. I think finally by the fifth throw I was successful. One tiny, absolutely bitter mango fell! Everyone cheered. We continued until everyone had enough mangos to satisfy them for the rest of the walk.
Although this nature walk was short, for me it was full of adventure. I felt like I was little again and in a make believe story about living off the land—this time in the African bush. For the girls it was maybe just another day of picking mangos. They shared a part of their everyday life with me, something they wouldn’t necessarily classify as adventurous or even interesting. However, I think when you share something like this with a visitor and can see their excitement and interest in the experience, it gives you a sense of pride and enjoyment as well. It turns ordinary walks into adventures that you can enjoy together.