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Runoff Reflections

Photo by Riley Nelson

With a growing population, water conservation is a major concern in Utah. Yet, capturing water can prove difficult. Often, watershed runoff can be too high. Growing up in the arid desert region of central Utah, I understand what runoff looks like. When the ground closes itself off during hot summers intense rain fall or snow-melt can come too fast for the soil to drink in, making runoff waste inevitable. All this got me thinking: In this fast-paced world, how do we capture the things we need? How do we avoid closing ourselves off? How do we conserve the best parts of ourselves and learn from experience?

My children, twin boys, will be entering fourth grade in the fall. This summer has been filled with hiking, camping, and fishing. I have tried to keep them focused on natural light and shaded woods instead of LED screens and contrived entertainment. We have whittled away the warmth of days in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains. Sharing these experiences with my boys has helped me find answers to my questions. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv says, “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. There are moments when the world is made whole…memories [where] adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.” I want my children to learn the importance of soaking it all in, of accepting what is offered when it is given. I want to teach them to prepare themselves for the rain so they don’t lose lessons to the runoff. It is easy to shrink into ourselves, to sluff off the truths that wash over us, but reflective writing is one way to open ourselves up.

Coupled with outdoor experiences, reflection allows us to slow down, to break out of air-conditioned routines, and capture glimpses of our inherent make-up. Once outside, we need to open our eyes and breath slowly. The first time I took my kids hiking this summer they thought it was a race. They just wanted to get to the waterfall at the top of the trail. I had to tell them over and over to slow down, take a breath, and look around. Yet, they pushed ahead. The second hike, they began to take their time. They stopped to notice a cotton-like sac of newly hatched caterpillars--dozens of squirming future butterflies all wrapped up together. When we came upon a field of toppled Aspen (some still trying to sprout their summer leaves) they asked why the trees were bent and then stood still and listened as I explained the power of weighty snow. The third time we hiked I asked them to write about their experience. They each quickly summarized: “I saw a baby deer” And “I saw a lizard and a snake.” While I enjoyed reading how they took note of the world around them, the teacher in me wanted more, so I asked them to dig a little deeper. I challenged them to write again and think about what they felt, to consider what they learned about themselves, and to figure out where they fit in nature. One wrote, “I am happy when I am on the trail.” The other, “I feel good when I am outside.” But it is when the first finished his reflection with the sentiment “I fit in everywhere in nature because I am a part of it,” that I recognized the powerful way his reflection was opening him up to larger, less anthropocentric ideas. The experience he has paired with writing eliminated runoff, if you will.

All the water we have on earth is the same water we have always had. It is constantly cycled through. Even when runoff occurs, eventually that water will be soaked up by the clouds and rained back down upon us. I suppose some of the experiential lessons that roll off of me will be cycled over again by my children. In that case, nothing is wasted. When bits of my love for the wilderness are conserved within these boys or when the crux of reflective writing tickles their brains and the outdoor experiences of their 9-year-old summer exist in their memories, runoff is eliminated. When future butterflies, roaring waterfalls, and a piece of paper help them to reflect on how they feel and who they are, runoff is simply part of the cycle.