Garland Ranch

Phoebe and I explored this hiking spot in Carmel Valley last week.  I had been wanting to check out more of the area for a while since the land reminds me so much of my hometown, the Ojai Valley in Southern California.  When I walked these paths, I felt like I had found a refuge in which I could ease my homesickness.  I took off my sandals and walked barefoot like I used to do with my best friend, Christy, in the Ventura River Preserve in Ojai.  We found a shady spot to rest and relax beside Carmel River.  The Ventura River dried up last year in Ojai along with the Sespe River, leaving nowhere for people (or other animals?) to escape the heat.  A sign posted on the bridge traversing the Carmel River informed me that it’s at a critically low level but at least it is still flowing.  A meadow grows between the river and the mountains where the trails wind through the foothills and into canyons beneath canopies of oak.

 

Carmel River

Carmel River

Carmel River

Carmel River

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Garland Ranch

Christy at the Ventura River Preserve, 2010

Christy at the Ventura River Preserve, 2010

Ventura River Preserve, 2010

Ventura River Preserve, 2010

Phoebe at the Ventura River Preserve, 2010

Phoebe at the Ventura River Preserve, 2010

Phoebe at the Ventura River Preserve, 2011

Phoebe at the Ventura River Preserve, 2011

Soft Fascination

Her majesty climbing boulders

Her majesty climbing boulders

If I want to go to the beach, it’s only a 15 minute drive away but if the fog doesn’t lift or the breeze is too chilly, I hang out in the warm, sunny valley I call home: Ojai.  Such was the case this afternoon when I brought Phoebe to the Ventura River Preserve for a day of exploration.

If I were to allow Phoebe to watch cartoons all day, she’d happily acquiesce but if given the opportunity to have fun in a natural environment, her imagination readily ignites.  Interestingly, Phoebe found a tiara sitting atop a boulder formation she was climbing.  She put it on and then grabbed some large sticks that were three times her height, pretending to be a warrior.

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Phoebe chased after lizards and examined countless rocks, stuffing a few in her bag to add to her collection when we got home.  There is a great children’s book called “Everybody Needs a Rock” that describes the connection of a child to their favorite rock and gives ten charming instructions to children on how to slow down, learn to be observant and find their own rock.

One of my favorite college courses was called “Math and Science for the Young Child” which heavily emphasized the power of outdoor play.  Our required reading included a book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv, who goes into rich detail on the benefits of allowing a child time to explore a natural environment with minimal interference from adults, lest his or her thought process be interrupted.  The essence of the book is that children benefit from time in nature due to the soothing yet stimulating effect it has on the mind.

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This claim is supported by a recent experiment with a portable (!) EEG machine that measured the activity of people who walked through various environments.  The results indicated that people are markedly relaxed in natural settings.  While this is not surprising, the reason is intriguing: a natural environment induces an experience that is termed “soft fascination” wherein the brain is attentive yet relaxed, taking in information but allowing for reflection and quiet contemplation, as described in an article in the New York Times titled “Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park.”  Giving ourselves and our children the opportunity to learn, explore and relax at the same time is invaluable.

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