How My Grandparents Got Me Hooked on Nature (And Why It Worked)

One of the reasons why I feel so passionately about children spending time in nature is that it makes them more likely to protect the environment as adults. Many of our first, most cherished childhood memories originate from direct experiences in nature together with a parent, grandparent or other relative. Adults are effectively children’s gatekeepers to nature. This is important to keep in mind since kids today have considerably less freedom to play outside by themselves than their parents did.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, partly because my Dad recently asked me where my love for nature came from. He was puzzled because he doesn’t necessarily identify himself as an outdoorsy person, nor did he think that he and my mom had exposed me much to nature when I was little. He was wrong. My mom loved (and still loves) gardening and going for long walks in the woods. As a family we skied every winter (cross country and downhill – I grew up in Scandinavia, after all!), swam in the lake in the summer  and went camping just about every year. Most importantly, they gave me the freedom to roam  in the big woods behind our house with my friends, long before the term “free-range” was ever applied to children.

But they weren’t the only ones who shaped me and nurtured my inner naturalist. Knowingly or not, so did my paternal grandparents, even though they didn’t really fit the mold of outdoorsy people. Neither one of them was particularly fit – my grandpa had a pot belly and smoked a pipe for most of his life. They didn’t do any sports (unless you count watching cross-country skiing during the Olympics). They didn’t even own bikes. But they did enjoy what Scandinavians call friluftsliv, which loosely translates to “open air life.”

The concept of friluftsliv is deeply embedded in Scandinavian culture and means that nature is embraced as a source of recreation and a place for restoration. For many people, like my grandparents, it is in fact a way of life.

My grandmother hiking in northern Sweden, circa 1979.


So how exactly did my grandparents become my outdoor mentors?

They grew a garden. It wasn’t big, but it had a big red currant bush and enough wild strawberries to keep a small child occupied for days on end. Helping my grandma harvest vegetables and turning berries into jams and pies gave me an appreciation for the ways nature sustains us.

They took me places. If my grandparents had me for the day, a road trip was often on our agenda, especially in the summertime. I can safely say that if there was a nature preserve, cultural heritage site or city park worth seeing within a couple of hours drive, we probably went to it. These places will forever live on in my heart.

Three generations hiking together. My grandpa (right), my dad (left) and me in the carrier. I’m three years old and learning to love hiking.

They played outside with me. My grandparents never told me it was too cold, too wet or too windy to play outside. Instead, my grandma built tunnels in the snow and had snow ball fights with me.

Grandma and I building tunnels in the snow.

They taught me about plants and birds. The reason why I know many of the common wildflowers and bird species in Scandinavia isn’t that I learned about them in school. It’s the fact that my grandparents loved feeding birds from their patio in the winter and picked flowers with me in the summer.

They loved picnics. Whenever we went on a trip – big or small – my grandparents would bring a small backpack with coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches, cinnamon rolls and cookies. Our picnics were a special treat that made me develop a love for eating outside.

My grandparents taking a coffee break during an outing.

They walked with me. My grandparents were, as I mentioned earlier, not particularly athletic but they loved a good walk in the woods – and they walked often. I learned to walk with them early on, which made me resilient. By the time I was three, I was able to hike long distances by myself.

My grandmother and I at Komosse nature preserve in Sweden.

I’m telling you this story to prove that you don’t need a garage full of expensive gear to get a child hooked on nature. You don’t have to go on big adventures to exotic locations. You don’t need a ton of money. You don’t even have to be particularly athletic. Those things are all nice, of course. But really, all you need is a caring adult that’s willing to take a child outside.

My grandpa passed away when I was in high school but my grandma lived to be 85. When I sat by her side last fall as she was fading away from cancer and dementia, we revisited in our conversations many of the places she and grandpa had taken me to when I was little. That was proof to me that many of our best memories are not only created in nature. They are also the last memories to leave us.

18 thoughts on “How My Grandparents Got Me Hooked on Nature (And Why It Worked)

  1. Mae says:

    Beautiful! My grandparents took the whole family camping for our first family reunion when I was in high school because I loved it so much. Your post brings back a lot of good memories.

  2. Jen Seiderer says:

    Oh I love this! Unfortunately both sets of my kids’ grandparents are far away, but I’m doing this for them instead. What special memories and amazing photos you have!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Thanks for reading, Jen! I was fortunate to have my grandparents just down the street but of course that’s not the case for everybody. Your kids are lucky to have you creating these types of memories with them instead!

  3. Kierna says:

    Linda what an amazing legacy your grandparents passed onto you. Love the photos too. I’d say most Scandinavians are more outdoorsey than other nationalities without even realising it. Thanks for linking up again.

  4. WildFamilyFun says:

    What a truly beautiful post, it really has brought tears to my eyes as it makes me think how my Dad has given me my love of nature. The photographs you have included are so lovely. Such a wonderful post, thank you for sharing.

  5. Kusin Christine says:

    Vilken fin text, Linda!! Och så kul att se alla fina bilder. Jag tänker också väldigt mycket på vår barndom nuförtiden och på all tid vi spenderade i skogen och trädgården oavsett årstid och väder. Vilken otrolig lyx det var att ha skogen och sjön alldeles inpå… Har många fina och klara minnen från tiden i Dfs! Kram!!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Tack, Christine! Vad kul att se dig här på bloggen:o) Ja, jag har ju börjat fundera mer och mer på min egen barndom sedan jag fick barn själv, det blir väl lätt så. Och håller verkligen med om att det var fantastiskt att få växa upp med både skogen och sjön inpå knuten. Jag går fortfarande upp i skogen förbi ert gamla hus varje gång jag är i Sverige och de sista åren har jag börjat ta med mig tjejerna. Det känns på något sätt viktigt att dela den upplevelsen med dem:o)

  6. Kusin Anette says:

    Åh, vad sentimental man blir av din fina text. Kan minnas all lek i skogen som igår! Minns du när vi tog med kaninungarna på picknick i skogen och vi höll på att inte få med alla hem igen, ha, ha!!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Ja, jag blev själv ganska sentimental av att skriva den…Kommer mycket väl ihåg när kaninerna rymde – känns som om det hände mer än en gång…Kommer även mycket väl ihåg när vi bestämde oss för att ge oss ut på en liten promenad (gröna spåret) och hamnade så långt borta i obygden att vi till slut fick ringa och bli hemkörda…

  7. Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault says:

    My boys only have my Mum still alive and she is back in the UK and we are in France. However I hope I can in some small way be like the grandparent you talk about and show them how wonderful nature is. We certainly have lots of space for them here and roaming free is something they do whenever they can -all without the use of technology!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      I’m kind of in the same situation as both my parents still live in Sweden and the girls and I live in the US. But every time we visit them in Sweden we always spend a lot of time outdoors, so I hope the girls will have similar memories with my parents as I did with my grandparents. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply