A Memoir by Kasey Schelling, Kiva Center Co-Founder
I am a lover of this Earth. I want more than anything to be a steward of her generous gifts, so that many generations beyond ours will get to marvel in her beauty, just as we can now.
The most vivid memories of my childhood were spent building forts in the small tree grove behind my house, making “potions” of mud and leaves, and rolling down snow-capped hills. Over time, I’ve realized that if I had to choose just one thing that brings me peace, rejuvenation, inspiration, and joy, it’s time spent in the outdoors. Miraculously, the accumulation of worries that build up in my mind seem to just slip away as the gentle breeze and warmth of the sun invite me to come back home.
Growing up, it didn’t take much “wilderness space” for me to reap the benefits of the shade of a tree or the sweet songs of a bird. My family’s suburban Chicago neighborhood was pretty removed from any expansive forest or mountains to get lost in. Yet, the only thing that we kids needed was a little time and freedom to run barefoot outside, exploring the treasures of the outdoors. Our imaginations did the rest.
It doesn’t take much, but unfortunately, children's’ time spent outdoors is dwindling at an alarming rate. This reality truly began to set in for me when I was working in a public elementary school in Illinois. Just around the time when we received a grant for each kid to have their own ipad at school, there was simultaneous talk about completely eliminating the 15 minutes of recess that kids had each day.
It seems to me that in the name of progress, we can easily override the simple things that provide us with sustained well-being.
When I was a child, it’s funny how much I valued (or at least thought I did) new toys and possessions. The 90s was a fascinating era when the technological boom gained increased momentum. Each time that my birthday or Christmas rolled around, I would explode with excitement over the mountain of toys that my parents would get me. Yet, interestingly, many of the things that I received eventually ended up piled in my closet collecting dust.
While I do remember playing the fancy new computer games that I received, those memories are now reduced to a mindless blur of hours spent losing myself to the screen. The vivid colors, sounds, smells, and tastes of my outdoor adventures are so much more alive in me to this day. Looking back, I think my parents would have been better off wrapping a tree in the yard with a big bow; for this gift (more than any other), is the one that has allowed my creativity, self-confidence, and sense of peace to flourish.
I also think that the outdoors, at times, saved me from losing hope completely. I will never forget the day when I was about 9 years old and found out that a close family member had attempted to commit suicide. I did not fully understand what had happened, but I recall the hard feeling that formed in the pit of my stomach and the sensation of utter despair that consumed me. I remember having to stay at a neighbor's house as my parents rushed to the hospital to visit this family member.
I recall, that my neighbor tried to "smooth things over" by offering to let me play a special game that only she had at her house. On any other day I would have been elated, but on this day, I couldn't be bothered. Instead, I went out and sat by a tree in her yard for a couple of hours. It felt like that tree was able to hold all of my overwhelming emotions that I just couldn't possibly carry on my own.
My sense of urgency to get kids outdoors was compounded by the frightening statistics about climate change that were presented to me around 2007 in a college course about Weather and Atmospheric Sciences. As I sat bewildered, learning about the rate at which humanity was consuming fossil fuels at the cost of clean air, soil and water, I could not help but wonder,
“How did we get here and where do we begin to make change in a new direction?”
To me, my personal grieving and determination to heal our relationship with the Earth feels like the same burning desire that one would have if they were trying to save a family member's life. I am too fond of the colorful sunrises that invigorate me each morning. I’m too captivated by the beauty of animals to see their homes paved over. I’m too inspired by the creativity of humanity to see us slowly ruining our precious home.
I know that the challenges of modern society are incredibly complex- I do not claim to have the answers. Yet I do believe that small strides are the building blocks of great change. If there is one thing that I wish for future generations, it is that they are blessed with the opportunity to fall in love with the Earth; for when we love something, we will do whatever we can to protect it.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." (Baba Dioum, 1968.)
With the help of many great friends, family, and the bounty of nature, I founded The Kiva Center in 2014. Our mission is to build inner-strength and compassion in youth through transformational nature-connection experiences. My hope is that The Kiva Center will provide these experiences to as many kids as possible, so that they, too, can fall in love with this miraculous planet. I wish that they will be inspired to be caretakers, so that they, too, can feel at home.
We are incredibly blessed to live on this Earth. We all just need a chance to step outside, take a deep breath and remember.