Dec 3, 2014

Do the Earth

"I love it more than Christmas."

That's my oldest son's reaction when asked if he likes going on our annual camping trip over Labor Day weekend. I think I agree. It's a tradition in my family that goes back about 30 years. Some of my best memories as a kid come from our Labor Day camping excursions. I'm not even sure why. It was always hot. Or raining. Lot of bugs. Poison ivy. Burnt food. Cold showers. Hard beds. Cramped quarters. More bugs. Despite all the shunning of creature comforts, I looked forward to that trip all year long. I still do.

Apparently it's good for you, though.

Our family needs to do it more often. Lately, we only make it out twice a year. Next year I'd like to double that. It's a lot of work to pack up five kids and take them camping, but they really do love it. The list of benefits (especially for children) from spending time outdoors is growing. In Japan, they even have a concept called Shinrin-yoku, which translates to "forest bathing." It's considered a form of therapy and has been shown to decrease cardiovascular disease, lower heart rate and blood pressure, decrease cortisol and increase white blood cell counts. One study showed that a two night trip to a forest resulted in increased human natural killer (NK) cell activity, increased number of NK cells, and increased intracellular anti-cancer proteins with the effects lasting for more than a week afterwards for both men and women. So if the elements and poison ivy don't get you, spending time outdoors can have a real and significant impact on our health.

My kids won't mention the health benefits when they talk about how much they love our annual camping trip. It's fun for them. There's a certain freedom that comes with our week in the woods every year. I can see it in their eyes the moment they step out of the car. Freedom from schedules. Freedom from staying clean. Freedom from electronic screens. Freedom from boredom.

Here are some of my favorite photos from our 2014 trip.

My cousin organized an "obstacle course" for the kids. It was a blast.

It was competitive to say the least.

Sometimes it takes a few years to get promoted from the kiddie table.

Luckily this fella was behind glass.

Experienced hiker. No biggie.

The rocks were GINORMOUS.

Epic canyon hike. Felt like a lost world.

View from above.

Lots to explore.

It took a sharp eye to discover this little guy.

Just dangerous enough to get the heart pumping.

Highly recommended hike in Indiana.

Campsite clothes dryer.

The grown ups got to pretend we were 20 years younger than we really are.

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