Playing Outside

As a kid, I liked riding my bicycle. Sometimes I’d shoot hoops with my siblings or my dad. Sometimes my sister and I rollerbladed around our neighborhood, wearing helmets and knee pads. I enjoyed playing out on the streets, but whenever my parents planned on a road trip to sightsee wilderness parks, I always resisted. I didn’t like being cramped in the backseat with my three siblings. I don’t remember being impressed by our destinations. Although I liked playing outside, I was actually more into spending time playing video games or logging onto Neopets.

In sixth grade, I went to Outdoor Science School, a week of spending time in the cabin up in the Angeles Forest. I liked science back then, but I was also curious about this concept of camping since some of my friends would chat about it during “What I Did Over the Summer” show and tell in class. I was imagining experiences like The Parent Trap (the one with Lindsay Lohan). I thought it was very American and very fun. Other students and I fundraised to attend.

But I also didn’t like spending much time outdoors. I felt sticky, dusty, and dirty. I don’t remember our hikes being physically challenging. When we had our lunch break, I ate while I stood, wary about the cleanliness of large rocks where other kids were sitting down. I hid all of these thoughts of discomfort from my classmates. I was tomboyish but I didn’t like dirt.

Our counselor taught us about plants and animals. He talked about bugs. I found one on my hand and showed it to my friend, who then told the counselor. He asked me, “Would it be ok if you keep it on your hand for a just a bit?” I nodded. He waved all the other kids to come around me and then he said, “This is an example of a tick. This is a bug we must avoid. It could make us really sick and that’s not good.” Afterwards, he grabbed a little clear plastic case and scraped the tick into it. He then said to me, “Thank you for being brave!”

I smiled. I thought, “No big deal!”

I remember our counselors gathering us in the evening. My classmates and I held each other’s hands as we walked somewhere. They told us to keep our eyes closed. It was some kind of trust exercise. I heard other girls giggling and boys being rowdy. When we stopped, one of my classmates whispered to me in excitement, “I got to hold my crush’s hand.”

The counselors must have told us to form a circle. We closed our eyes again. Then they waved something under my nose. It smelled like mint. “This is a wintergreen leaf,” he said. We all opened our eyes and they handed us something. I saw one of them put it in their mouth and it glowed. “Now try it yourselves.”

It was wintergreen mint candy. I thought it was the coolest thing. Afterward, we had a lesson about the starry sky, and I made wishes after seeing a few shooting stars.

I’d like to say I was hooked after that weeklong experience. It wasn’t until after college when I began to seek nature again, and on my own.