“into nature and shit”

by Matt Schiff
What is a blog if not an outlet for the writer to talk about themselves and what’s on their mind? So while I anxiously await a more detailed trip report from my fellow compadres’ pre-bike49 tour, I’ll fill the silence with talk of “nature” and reminisces of my childhood in New Jersey.
What I’ve been thinking about and what has provided the substance for this blog post is the “nature deficit disorder” as it is currently tagged, and how the four of us have managed to elude that condition. How, despite somewhat traditional upbringings and environments, we have all moved past seeing nature as a separate entity from ourselves, and embraced the idea of interconnectedness. Well wait just a minute.  I’m not talking about barefoot wandering in the forest, searching for a religious experience, although that is fine as well, but a more scientific realization that the unnatural world is the concrete [jungle] we have created, and our natural place, our home, is among the snakes, bears, deer, wildflowers, and endless forests. It’s the realization that we depend on environmental services for our survival and being ignorant of that fact does not make it cease to exist.
I grew up in central New Jersey, in one of the most populated counties in the U.S.,  so my backyard and play areas were nothing like the landscape I’ve come to know in the west. But this didn’t stop my sisters and I from being outdoor kids. We were lucky enough to go to a preschool that had a great backyard, a few acres of land, so kids could play outside on a jungle gym, and most notably climb trees. These experiences can’t be overlooked in their significance. I also grew up with a bike in hand. I wasn’t much past three years old before I road my bike around the block, up and down the sidewalk, and over to the neighborhood grade school. I remember realizing the breeze from riding made an otherwise hot day cool. If you stopped, you heated up so might as well keep the pedals turning. I also got to vacation to a more rural part of New Jersey and stay in a campground. Riding my bike along the campground roads provided the ultimate form of exploration and that’s what being outdoors is really about. These three experiences fueled my curiosity about the outdoors and exposed me to less humanly altered environments. Many of my friends I grew up with never got to have these experiences and didn’t see walking around the forest as anything more than, “being into nature and shit”.
matt youth

matt rides his bike up the block then down the block, then tries to launch big air off the uplifted pavement on the sidewall... go in for a drink and then ride around the block again.

As we visit dense cities and give talks at schools, the presentation of our travels will likely be foreign to many kids, but it is also likely to leave an impression, the same way events of my childhood formed my adult life. This early experience is what we hope to give, and in return we’ll get feedback and insight into children’s lives by learning about the barriers to experiencing the outdoors; economic, social and cultural, and spacial.

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