Jennifer is a Chicago mama that happened into our store months ago. We were thrilled that she identified so completely with our values here at BUSHBABY. She is knowledgeable, yet accessible + we love her blog! Please welcome her to our little journal!
In an article written by Ruth Wilson for the Newsletter of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC) she discusses the concept of “Ecological Identity”. Since reading this piece, I have reflected often on the role that nature has played, and continues to play, in my own life. Nature grounds me and calms me, but it also gives me wings to explore new places and ideas.
I grew up in Peoria, the eldest of five children, and spent many of my days outside. Our house backed up to a cow pasture, and I was able to live the dual life of a city mouse and a country mouse: swimming in the chlorinated water at the Lakeview Water Park one day and discovering wild strawberries and avoiding cow pies the next. My mom fostered my love of nature and the outdoors from an early age, pointing out names of flowers, observing birds and insects, and taking us to Forest Park Nature Center, an absolute gem of a place that I love returning to anytime we are back in Peoria, as I am now a true city mouse. My family and I reside in the city of Chicago.
It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago five years ago that I realized how important nature is to me. Our first apartment was in Old Town, just a short walk away from Lincoln Park, an amazing green space in the heart of the city. I spent so much time there, reveling in the fact that I could again enjoy the beauty of nature amidst the hustle and bustle of city life.
Between childhood and becoming a “grown up”, I have kept close ties with nature. It has always restored me. In undergrad I would frequently run along the local riverfront, taking in the sights, after a stressful day of exams. During undergrad, I was offered the opportunity to be an undergraduate research assistant for an entomology project based in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Our lab was based in Moab, Utah, and those that know the place will not be surprised to hear that I returned with a new respect for hiking and a newfound obsession for rock climbing and mountain biking.
As I studied to become a biology teacher at Illinois State University in Normal, I was able to fund my new outdoor habits by working part-time at Bushwhacker in Peoria and later at Vitesse Cycle in Normal. I was thrilled to discover the mountain biking trails at Jubilee Park in the Peoria area and Comlara Park in McLean County. In addition, I spent many hours in the silos at Upper Limits in Bloomington, having never imagined that I would still be able to hone my climbing skills in the midwest! Looking back, that time seems almost like a dream.
Once I graduated and started teaching, I had less time to get out into the wild. I still managed to commute to work on my bicycle and go camping on the occasional weekend that allowed for it, thankful to have a found a husband that shares my love of the outdoors, but I started to feel like I was losing touch with that part of me.
The truth is, nature has never left me. Though I may not get out on the trails with my mountain bike these days, my love of nature has continued to drive my life path. Teaching science in the classroom, I did my best to connect my students to the wonders of the natural world. My passion for nature led me to explore the importance of nature play during early and middle childhood in my graduate degree program at the Erikson Institute. Now that I am a mother, I find myself spending hours and hours outside again, naming flowers, observing birds and insects, and just “messing about” in the outdoors with my daughter, as she forms her own ecological identity. I have taken to blogging about all this on my website, and hope to help expand the collective knowledge of the importance of nature play to children and families in the city of Chicago, and beyond! When I come back to visit family in Peoria, one of new favorite places to stop is Bushbaby. From the moment I stepped in the door, I loved the look and feel of the place. And I cannot resist the kid-sized cuteness and quality of the amazing brands that I have grown to love and rely on as a nature enthusiast. The owner, Bethany, has always been such a friendly face, and I look forward to seeing her on our visits to the store.
For more information on ecological identity and nature play, check out my website, Wilder Wonder, and these great resources:
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Jennifer!