I was one of those fortunate kids that really grew up in a somewhat outdoor environment. I mean, I wasn’t really raised on a farm or raised out in the forest or the woods, but I was really raised where it was natural, expected that you spent all of your time outdoors playing until it was either time to eat lunch, go to the bathroom, come home and eat dinner, or go to bed. And, as an adult and as a parent myself, I look back to my childhood and realize how much I took that [experience] for granted as being the norm and I feel like my natural desire to always want to be outside, or to consider going outside, as being a part of my weekly experience or way to have fun. I feel like I got all of that from just the way that I grew up.
I grew up in Upstate New York in a bedroom community outside of Syracuse, New York. It was very formal and I think, just in terms of socioeconomic and educational status, high-income households/high-education households; kids went out and played all of the time. But [then] I moved to Oregon, when I was nearly nine years old, we moved to Gresham. Gresham now is such a big city in the state of Oregon, but when I moved there—and this is the late ‘80s—we lived in a section of Gresham that was really kind of closer to Troutdale and then in actuality (depending on how you drove) you could go right to Boring. When I lived there, there was one grocery store, the Burger King, the Dairy Queen, the dry cleaners. And I remember when they put a health clinic out there for a medical practice. I remember when they built the Food for Less grocery store. So when I lived in Gresham, it wasn’t really suburban, it was more rural. And I remember going to Gresham City Park with my next-door neighbors. I put my hand on some monkey bars to kind of play around and some natural sap from the wood that was holding the metal got on my hands. I just remember feeling like, “Ew, yucky.”
And my next door neighbor’s mom asked, “What’s wrong?”
And I said, “I’ve got this sap. What is this?”
She said, “It’s just from the wood, you know, in the play structure.”
And she just looked at me and said, “You’re fine.”
And I said, “Yeah, you’re right. I am fine.”
And it was such a definitive moment for me as a kid that getting dirty, being outside, none of that stuff was going to kill me. It was just a natural way to play. And, [now] as an adult wanting to go outside, get dirty, like when I get dirty now just doing everyday things, it doesn’t really impact me. And now that I have children, we live in a world (compared to when I was growing up) where things for children are scheduled, and you have to build them in, and it’s all about activity, and there’s such an easy tendency to get into that. I find my most natural skillset, in terms of things to think about for our kids to do, comes from just the natural good old-fashioned play that I had as a kid. And, you know, my children do have scheduled activities and we do as parents spend quite a bit of money on those things and they’re fine, but I find my natural comfort zone is getting in a car with a bunch of stuff and going outside and spending the day. And I find myself being the happiest, I find that my girls and our family, I think, are happiest in those moments too.
hen I moved here I went to a public school in Gresham first. But, I went to Catholic school in New York and my parents wanted me to continue with private Catholic education. So from fourth to eighth grade I commuted from the far corner of Gresham to Beaverton every single day for school. And in fourth grade [it] was state law—and I’m not sure if it [is] today—you have to learn Oregon history as social studies. That was also an interesting exposure to the outdoors and understanding the frontier and...it’s kind of created this narrative about Oregon and the great outdoors. Some of that history was a little propa-gandish, if I might be so frank. And I say that as a person who has her bachelor’s degree in history. It wasn’t the most accurate history. But it certainly made an imprint in my brain about what Oregon was about and what it meant to be a person in Oregon.
But, of course, at that point—and this was the ‘90s—Outdoor School in sixth grade was expected. At that point, it was funded to the fullest [extent] and even though I went to private school, it was still expected that private school kids went to Outdoor School. And so I did and it was an amazing experience. I remember being a little cautious or a little shy. It wasn’t so much about going away for five days or so, it was more [about] what do I have? Am I going to have enough? Am I going to have fun? All the things I think about, and kids think about, when they’re going away to do something new.
But it was amazing. I honestly remember it like it was yesterday. We shot a BB gun, which I don’t think they would do today, but I do remember BB guns. I remember building a campfire, all the arts and crafts, all the songs. What goes into like making a meal together, cleaning up a meal together, like table etiquette, eating family style with your classmates. When I went to school—kids today in some schools eat family style—you got hot lunch and you sat at the table and ate your school lunch that you...brought from home. So learning to eat family style and learning to cook in a kitchen at eleven or twelve years old, now, that’s a really big deal for a kid. And to do that in an outdoor setting and to have an appreciation for the outdoors, cleaning up after yourself, hearing the history of those woods. All the things that, I mean I haven’t really ever talked about this honestly, so it’s good to do this. But, I think it gives you a sense of appreciation and it builds in a sense of accountability for the outdoors and for one another. And, you know, and over the years I’ve never really considered myself an environmentalist. I think, you know, some of it—and I happen to be a liberal partisan hack. I’ve been employed professionally by politics for most of my professional career. You know, the environmental movement I think in some ways is not as appreciated or well-framed as it could be. And I think some of it is because, you know, some of the surrogates that we have, speaking upon environmentalism—some people may not feel they can relate to.
And so I also think that we are now starting to cultivate what environmental justice looks like and making sure that we are talking about the environment and the outdoors from the framework of the social determinants of health, and thinking about people who have for a long time relied on the environment and the outdoors but have not been at the face or the forefront of the environment/outdoors movement. But one of the ways that the older narrative can come more into contemporary times could be by really, at a younger stage in people’s lives, or overall increasing people’s access to the outdoors. Which is why I think—this is again my political point of view—funding Outdoor School and the ability for kids to get access to the outdoors is so critical. It’s critical for their ability to learn in the classroom. It’s critical for their own health and their physical activity, but it builds in stewardship and civic engagement at an early age because it certainly did for me. When we moved to Oregon, both my parents were so busy in their career. I think between the ages of nine and eighteen we maybe only went camping twice and I think we went to the beach; I know we took a lot of trips back east and did stuff like that. But even though I only went camping twice with my parents, it was probably Outdoor School that was most definitive outdoor experience I had in my childhood. And [my family] would go fishing and when we would go back east we would go up to the lake area and we would have fun out there. And that’s fine, but I think really Outdoor School was more definitive than I thought. I think today’s probably the first time I’ve had a chance to even think or talk about it.
My daughter’s in preschool, but it’s a preschool through eighth grade campus and their sixth grade class does go to Outdoor School and it’s awesome. And providing that we stay at that school, which I expect that we will, she’ll get a chance to go. If I’m given the parent opportunity to chaperone (if she doesn’t get too angry with me), I can guarantee you that I’ll be going, mostly because I just would love to share that with her. But mostly because I probably want to go to Outdoor School again and it’s hard for adults to find time like that in our busy lives. So it’ll give me something to look forward to. And then I have a baby that’s almost one and so she’ll go two years after that and if she lets me, I’ll go. They probably really don’t have a choice, but if I can go I probably will go.