Story by

David McIntire

October 18th, 2016

I was recently scrolling through Instagram when I came across @familytrails photo contest centered around collections. They wanted to see what your family collects from the outdoors. A lightbulb instantly went off because my boys loooooooooove collecting trinkets!

When Jack was a toddler, he would never be without some sort of figure clutched in his sweaty, little palm. While visiting his Gigi in California he came across one of those vintage "little people." I swear that thing did not leave his hand the entire trip. The trend has continued with our four-year-old Max, who ALWAYS has a Shopkin or Mindcraft mini-figure in his clutches. Max even brings them to bed, and they can be found twisted in his sheets each morning.

This urge to collect continues while we are out on the trail. In fact, some of the best times we have as a family are when we are combing beaches for shells, digging through creeks for rocks, or scavenging on the forest floor for sticks and leaves. While there is always a destination in mind when embarking on a hike, these little diversions have been a surprisingly large part of the adventure.

Even Mom jumps at the chance to explore what lies at her feet. She is the first one to lead the family down a creek or on a hunt for shells. When she is on the prowl for the perfect piece of sea glass, there is a level of concentration I don't see anywhere else. She is completely in a meditative state and could wander for hours exploring with her head down. If I don't keep tabs, she will end up a quarter mile upriver before I know it. For a woman that would not describe herself as a "nature" girl, she sure seems to enjoy scavenging out in the wild.

We live in a frantic world where our brains are flooded with constant stimuli. It is rare we are able to perform a task uninterrupted for more than a few minutes. When we are outside combing the ground for objects and exploring the nooks and crannies of the natural world, we are participating in an ancient ritual that is ingrained in our DNA from thousands of years of gathering. We may just be tapping into something primal that heals the soul after society constantly chipping away at it on a daily basis. We have taught our children to have short attention spans, and I feel obligated to help them find a way to live more mindfully. I see this as I watch our four-year-old interact with an iPad. He is constantly switching apps. By the time is he done, there are 20 of them open. He also prefers watching three-minute videos on YouTube as opposed to movies or shows. This, I believe, is the canary in the coal mine. This is our call to action. Simply bringing them outside and letting them tap into what makes them human is a step we are taking to give our children balance.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Stephen Hawking said, "Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist."

I believe Hawking is half correct here. Yes, looking up into the cosmos is a necessity. Anyone who has not woken in the middle of the night to witness a meteor shower absolutely needs to. But, I do believe that there are virtues in looking down, as well. If the only time you look down is to check your phone, you will be missing out on so many of the Earth's treasures and opportunities to participate in an activity as old as time. This has inadvertently become a favorite pastime for our family, one I hope continues for years to come. I would encourage you to get your family outside this weekend, no matter where it is, and don't forget to look down.