City mice

When I was little, I spent a few years living in the country.  And for my entire childhood (as best as I remember) I was happy to play in the dirt, walk barefoot in the grass, roll down hillsides, jump in leaf piles and splash in muddy puddles.  I don’t know if those early years living in the country set me on the path of being comfortable with nature, or if that was just always who I was going to be.  Certainly, as the years went on and I became completely enamored of and quite involved in the world of horses, I became even more comfortable with all of the things that outdoor life includes — dirt, bugs, heat, cold, splinters, mosquito bites, an occasional wild animal, and a rare but real need to be capable of some level of first aid and crisis management.

032In my vision of life as a parent, I always imagined my kids would be like me.  Dirt, bugs, weather, outdoors — no problem.

Not so.

Although I’ve done so far (I think) an amazing job of raising kids who are great travelers, have open minds, and who really know how to roll with it when things don’t go according to plan, they are, in different degrees, not so much down with “nature”.  Don’t get me wrong — they like playing outside and generally being outdoors, but only as long as there is not too much dirt, too many animals (wild or domesticated, but dogs are ok) or pretty much any bugs at all.

033I think it’s all the city living.  Sure, we VISIT the countryside — we hike, and play, and stay on working farms — but we come back to our attic apartment in the chic downtown of one of the cleanest, nicest and safest cities I’ve ever seen.  While at home in the US, there would have been trips to the barn to visit the horses, pumpkin patches in the fall and berry picking in the spring, outdoor swimming pools, camping trips and even just visits to Grandpa’s house (which has a yard and a very cool tire swing), here there is none of that.  Pumpkins and Christmas trees have been picked and cut before we buy them, the swimming pools are indoors, horses pull carriages and are not to be touched, and camping is something we do in our living room.

034This most recent trip to Sankt Koloman reminded me of how much my boys are “city mice”.  The farm we stayed on is a working organic farm.  They have cats (including a kitten who was a big hit with the kids), rabbits, chickens (Benjamin collected the eggs for our breakfast one day), goat and cows.  Both boys were intrigued by the animals (watching the cows get milked was the highlight of Benjamin’s trip, and Liam keeps asking where the kitten is) but they were not fond of the mud on their boots nor the inevitable bees and flies that come from being in the country in nice weather.

040I suspect this will change on its own after we go back to the US.  Before we left, our lives in the States included experiencing a lot more of nature, more regularly, than we do now.  I imagine it will again.  I really hope my boys will learn that the bees and bugs and dirt are all a small price to pay for the joy of being outdoors.  Really, I know they will — and I suspect that in a few years, when I’m pulling dead beetles out of the lint filter on the dryer, I’ll laugh at myself for ever thinking that they might not.

Public footpaths

049All across England, Scotland and Ireland, we encountered signs marking public footpaths.  These are (relatively) maintained walking paths that the public has a right to use.  It’s remarkable to me because, out in the country, they’re everywhere — not just along the edge of the road, or through parks or other public spaces, but very often through and across private land.

Following several of these public footpaths in England (we did less exploring on foot in Ireland and Scotland) we went across meadows, around lakes, into forests and through (occupied) sheep pastures.  (All of the pictures I’ve included in this post were taken while we were on a public footpath.)  Many of these areas are enclosed by fences and you have to pass 132through a gate (or a stile) in order to enter the field.  As a horse owner, and someone who spent a lot of time during my growing up years on a sheep farm, I’m astonished that this actually works.  (But, I guess it must, because I imagine that otherwise, something would change.)  I would have nightmares about my animals getting out, or someone getting trampled and suing (although things are different outside of the States when it comes to litigation).  Most of the gates we encountered were either kissing gates (basically a livestock comparison to an airlock door) or weighted to fall closed on their own, which is good, because people are generally bad at remembering to close gates (especially when the animals in question aren’t theirs).


Even so, I think it’s a wonderful system, and I’m amazed, yet thrilled, that it exists.  Vast parts of the English countryside are open to the public, allowing so much of the beautiful land to be explored.  We weren’t limited to public parks and sidewalks, we really were able to explore.  It was fantastic.