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Give the gift of time in nature this holiday season

Does anybody else feel like the shortened time between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year has taken an already busy time of year and sent it into hyperdrive?

If Noel Night was any indication, people have taken note of the narrow window and have been shopping with purpose. It’s good to see our local businesses doing brisk business.

While I’m not one for the commercialization of the holidays, I enjoy this season of giving. As a nonprofit director who also happens to have loved ones with December birthdays, I have to get creative with the gifts. Unfortunately, I’m not naturally artistic, so making homemade gifts isn’t really my go-to option. I tend toward experiences instead.

At a time when we are often so distracted by the technological world, we are recognizing that simple connections offer more meaning. If you’ve read any of my previous columns, you know what’s coming – the easiest experience we can have is time in nature.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve mentioned frilutsliv – the Norwegian concept of connecting with nature. If you search for the term online, you’ll find a number of different definitions, but my favorite is “a child-like adventurism, exploration and serenity.” We see it on a regular basis in the work we do with kids – whether it’s in our education programs, at our after-school programs or during nature camps. There is something magical about spending time in nature with kids because they see so much that we tend to pass by as we’ve gotten older and more distracted.

I still clearly recall the day my daughter declared the best day of her life – albeit short life as she was only 5 at the time. We had gone apple-picking, and on the way home, we stopped to play in the river. It was simple, and we moved at her pace. My gift to her for her upcoming 18th birthday is time together again, wandering a town that’s special to us and exploring the surrounding natural areas.

So if you’re still thinking about gifts for your children or grandchildren, consider some natural experiences. (Because I know children love to unwrap something tangible, I include a few suggestions for purchases, too.) Some ideas within Durango for young children include:

Take time to play in the yard and include a magnifying glass or bug catcher so you can observe tiny insect neighbors up close and personal before releasing them back into their habitat.Go on a scavenger hunt through the neighborhood or along the Animas River Trail. A small gift could be a compass to introduce wayfinding to your child.Purchase a field guide from Maria’s Bookshop and see how many different things you can identify as you explore the world around you.Explore your neighborhood after dark, taking time to focus on what you hear and feel and how that’s different than when it’s daylight.Get involved with Free Forest School of Durango, meeting families who share the same desire to slow down and connect as you do.Engage your children in the notion of giving back: take time to do some litter patrol and celebrate with lunch at their favorite restaurant afterward. If you have older children, instill the idea of stewardship through trail maintenance or citizen science opportunities with any number of partner organizations in town. We are fortunate to have so many opportunities to experience nature in our region. The hardest part in giving experiences is foregoing the notion that we have to have a mountain of presents under the tree and taking time to slow down and allow our children to dictate the pace; however, doing so is a gift that will benefit both the recipient and you. Meanwhile, I wish you a childlike wonder for the world around us this holiday season.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at stephanie@durangonaturestudies.org.