Between my road trip from London to Spain, and me being here in Chile to start the Greater Patagonian Trail, I was with my parents in Italy. They were there for a church pilgrimage tour and conveniently enough I could travel with them for a bit before coming South and before their trip started. I enjoy travelling with them, but this was a particularly poignant trip for me. Having grown up, like me, in a tropical city, they had little chance of experiencing the seasons that many I’ve met over my four years abroad seem to have taken for granted.
We took a walk in the park while we were in Milan, and the sycamore seeds were falling. I pointed it out to them, and to my delight they started trying to catch them. My mom then picked up a golden yellow leaf from the ground and commented on its pretty fan shape and brilliant colour. “Ooh that’s a gingko leaf!” And they were so excited to see the trees, and I picked up some fruits that had fallen nearby to show them. Unlike the Brits who I guess, see the trees often enough but don’t really know the gingko ‘nuts’/’seeds’, my parents are very familiar with the edible gametophyte/kernel of the fruit (which we call ‘beh kueh’ in dialect or 白果 ‘bai guo’ or literally white fruit) but not with the trees.
Later when we were wandering about Sardinia, the day I had planned to do some nice mountainous walks around the Gennargentu area, we came across a guy picking things off the floor. The actual mountain trail hike we aborted as the weather was as dismal as London’s, and worse, with tropical-sounding strong gusts. We stopped by a little village to get some coffee (and came across a small shop stuffed with random donated knick-knacks and an old lady who convinced us to give an euro for a chance to win something from the lottery draw. We gave two euros and got a little nativity scene wood carving and a McDonald’s wind-up sea creature-of-sorts, I couldn’t tell if it was a seal or a sea lion…). The torrent abated for a bit to a slight trickle, and there was a sign that said ‘Fuente’ and pointed uphill. I told my parents there was a fountain up there and if they’d like to see it. So up we wandered, found a little pipe coming out of the wall with water gushing. Snapped a photo, as always, and continued our way up. After a while, my mum asked where the fountain was, and I said that pipe was it, which considerably disappointed her. Nonetheless, we continued our way up until the path and rain became fairly perilous, and headed back down. As we neared the car, we came across an old man picking things up from the ground and putting it in a bag. I thought perhaps litter or something, but as we came closer, he showed us these nuts he was collecting. Walnuts, all over the ground! My parents were super excited, and my mom joined in picking some of them, with encouragement from him.
Those are the moments that make me really happy, to be able to share with them the joy of being in nature and being closer to nature. To let them know the trees whose fruits they’ve been consuming for years. It’s a child-like wonderment and curiosity at the natural world, something innate that we all have inside us – something like EO Wilson’s biophilia. Despite being city folks, they didn’t grow up with nature deficit disorder or suffered the extinction of experience. During their childhood, Singapore was still a much wilder place, kampongs and chickens running around were widespread, and my mom always told us about how when she was younger she had to help stuff kapok from the kapok tree into sofas that her parents made. My generation didn’t get to experience much of that, but our childhood still consisted of a fair amount of outdoor play. The current generation’s childhood though, is almost completely devoid of anything natural (beyond perhaps urban pigeons and mosquitoes)*. Yet the wonderment and awe that we all feel when we encounter the natural world (from reactions to the latest Planet Earth II release to the emotive posts that accompany photos of mountains/oceans/lightning storms etc.) is something that is hardwired in us, and squashing it out of people’s lives (from overly urban living) is probably one of the greatest losses in modern day living.
*Yet Singapore is much wilder than it seems, and kids these days do seem to have an ‘outdoor education’ component in the required syllabus. Maybe it’s just that everything seems a bit too structured and manicured.
P.S. This post is also scheduled to space out the publishing of posts. I’m currently on my 67 day hike and you can see our progress here.