Thank you for our wild joy, for our independence, and for our curiosity. Thank you for letting us explore our own boundaries and for our own thirst for adventure. Thank you for teaching us to value experiences over material things, to value our own stories over TV sitcoms.
It may not have seemed like much at the time, but you instilled in us a wonder for nature. Our first moments of exploring the world with our own eyes, of connecting with our surroundings, emotions that didn’t form in a controlled environment…these moments all happened outside.
Sometimes these were moments that you deliberately shared with us. I recall vividly when you decided that we should rent a plot in the community garden so you could teach us how to constructively play in the dirt (you can eat things that come out of the dirt instead of just eating it straight?) Our first lessons about the creation of life, and then rather less intentionally, the first lessons about the passing of life, were through watching a caterpillar that you had helped us catch become a butterfly, and then our wonderful butterfly becoming a bird’s dinner. You made us face our first fears through holding animals that we found a bit scary and taught us how to sound out our first words while curled up on a picnic blanket.
Sometimes these were moments that you would have rather avoided, but were just as important. Coming home late covered head to toe in mud, getting lost in a bog, falling out of trees, falling off of trampolines, but also falling in love with something bigger than Smacker’s lip gloss and Nintendo 64 and AOL’s instant messenger.
At 5, we fell in love with trees. This was likely your first regret in promoting outdoor activities, as you wondered how best to catch us if we decided to do a cannonball from 30 feet up.
At 7, we fell in love with the ocean…big waves, sunburns, jellyfish, and all.
At 10, we added storms to the list. Tornadoes and hurricanes and blizzards cast a spell over us that you struggled to understand, as we stood with our noses pressed to the window while everyone else was surrounded by pillows and flashlights.
At 11, the wonders of winter, no matter how icy and cold, couldn’t keep us from basking in it until we could no longer coherently feel any of our limbs.
At 16, we discovered and fell deeply in love with the mountains.
At 20, nothing held the sway over us like rising and setting of the sun did, and we learned to follow the call of the river.
The love for playing outside that you gave us wasn’t always easy for you. You had to do a lot of laundry. We still have no idea how you managed to remove the mud, grass, and blood out of our clothes. Curfew was always a struggle because it didn’t take flash light tag into consideration. It was hard for you to watch as we made mistakes; to let us teach ourselves when not to climb any higher or that maybe the sled jump that we’d just spent hours building was a little too tall. The independence that playing outside gave us couldn’t protect us from bloody knees, sprained ankles, and the occasional trip to the hospital. We brought weird things home that you would have rather stayed outside, and we stayed outside when you wanted us to come home. Indoor chores made us surly and combative, and outdoor chores often resulted in us following our curiosity into the woods. We disappeared for hours at a time when we were younger. Now, as adults we disappear for days at a time, without a word until we come back with stories that you find both full of wonder but also a bit concerning.
The safety gear that you gift us with started out as the necessary trash bags to contain whatever we had just walked through while driving us back home, then progressed to layers that might keep hypothermia at bay when we end up unintentionally camping out in the snow.
But the real ‘safety gear’ that you gave us are the intangible things. You taught us how to rejoice in our surroundings no matter what the circumstance. You gifted us with an insatiable sense of adventure and constant curiosity of what we can see from one more branch higher or one more ridge over. You taught us how to improvise, how to be creative, and how to build the most awesome forts (now known as survival shelters). You gave us a stubborn sense of independence, which was hard to navigate in our youth but has made us incredibly strong adults. You gave us a fierceness and the ability to look at challenges and greet them like old friends, to work with them rather than against them. You also gave us unparalleled sensitivity, which opened our eyes to beauty that few people can see, making us compassionate towards other living beings, caring immensely about this world surrounding us and everything that is in it.
When you tell us that you are proud of us, Mom, it is completely your fault.
The wildness, the howling at the moon and buying plane tickets abroad on a whim, the seasons spent in a tent and on the road, the perpetually sun burnt cheeks and sporadic phone reception. The inexplicable passion for life, the deep curiosity for people’s stories, the capability to share something spectacular and irreplaceable with others, the strength to stand in whatever rain storm life brings our way, mouth wide in laughter and arms spread in a dance, greeting the things that are unexpected or hard or completely out of our control as though it were a grand gift. The pictures of waterfalls in the jungle and that heart shaped rock from an alpine lake and the sparkle in our eyes as we recall our latest adventure…you caused those things. Those things that we bring back to you, the small pieces of something much bigger, the light that we share with the world, exist because you told us to go play outside.
Courtney Zink is a part of the Wet Planet guide staff and office team. Her fourth favorite thing about rafting is a tie between midnight runs and sandwiches. Her mom, Tonia, is a garden queen and can name every highest peak around the world. Courtney attributes at least half of her magical skills to her.