Growing up on the preserve. Photo: Sara Sheehy/TNC

Preserve Parent: Raising Kids at Silver Creek

Few people come to our birthday parties.  We rarely go out to dinner.  I am trying to put off organized sports for at least a couple more years. 

The over-scheduled child?  I wonder if there is any concern about the rarely scheduled child. 

Nine years ago this week I moved into the house on The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve in south-central Idaho.  I remember it being so quiet at night, with so much to do, see, and explore during the day. 

I was single then but I got married here, right on the preserve. But it was really not until the two kids I had here got older that I realized just how lucky we are.

We live about a half an hour away from town.  We drive enough during the week to and from school that any time we are able to stay home, we do.  Our drives to school include games about who sees the first moose or, when it gets dark in winter,  who sees the first owl. 

I can’t remember the last time I scheduled something for my kids to do and yet I also can’t remember a time recently that they needed or wanted something to do. 

Most days, we take a walk to the visitor center to see the volunteers and then wander to the creek, looking for critters along the way.  

They teach me all kinds of things.  When  my youngest son put a dead garter snake in one pocket and a big black beetle in the other, I realized that garters don’t smell bad when they are dead and that the big black beetles always smell bad.  

The boys have recently discovered fishing which to my mind is the best way for a child to see the world — they are in the water, watching the bugs, waiting, touching fish, and learning how all the pieces fit together. 

We mark our year with the different bird songs and the movement of the animals:

When the elk are bugling, it must be fall.

When the red-winged blackbirds sing, it’s close to spring. 

When the insects are hatching, time to swim in the creek. 

When it’s suddenly quiet, here comes the snow.  

I recall when I was little making forts out of old logs and exploring the forest looking for flowers and moss.  These were the times to explore and discover the world around me and I think it is the best gift I can give my kids —  the time to explore and learn on their own.  

There's always something new to find at Silver Creek. Photo: Dayna Gross/TNC
There’s always something new to find at Silver Creek. Photo: Dayna Gross/TNC

Living on the preserve — or anywhere where nature is close by — as a parent is just a lot easier as far as I can tell. 

Recently, we spent a month in Bariloche, Argentina as part of exchange program with the Conservancy.  Bariloche is a picturesque town, called the “gateway to Patagonia.” Tourists come from all over the world to see the amazing landscape surrounding the town. 

Bariloche is a city of approximately 150,000 people (and double that during the high tourist season). That may not sound like a big city to you, but it was a huge city to us.  We lived in a small apartment near the city center and the heart of the tourist haven. 

It was the first day when I realized having two little boys in a small apartment in a noisy city was like blowing up a balloon so much that you just expect it to explode.  Energy vibrated off the walls of the apartment.

Good energy: because we were excited to be there. And bad energy: because little boys always find something to fight about. 

We went out.  Cars and motorcycles surrounded us and it was the boys’ first experience having to be careful crossing the street. Yes, living on a preserve also means they are a bit sheltered.

They wanted to run and jump and we had to hang onto them with force.  Luckily, Bariloche borders a large and amazing lake, a five-minute walk from our apartment. 

We went to the shore and they ran and  threw rocks. The energy dissolved into the air. Not everyone can live on a nature preserve. But we need  to make sure these green spaces, these places of wild nature, are accessible to everyone.  

I don’t know exactly what it is, but nature is like a big sponge; it just sucks up all that tension and energy and we could finally relax.  During our stay, we went to the lake at least once a day. Often more. 

Now we are home and outside every minute we can even though it is spring in Idaho and we have to fight the rain and hail. 

But the birds are coming back and the boys notice the different sounds. The red-winged blackbirds, the meadowlarks. They hear the differences in their songs and they are so excited to hear them. 

Being in nature with kids is simple and easy. They get it. It relaxes them and that relaxes me. We are all more patient. 

They are more creative:  making forts out of sticks and bushes, race tracks in the dirt. They are able to push themselves physically and take risks.

They explore a little farther, run a little faster.  I know that they will appreciate nature when they grow up and that gives me hope that they will be part of the next generation of conservationists. 

And yes: I also hope they will remember how often I brought them outside and do the same for me when I am an old woman.

Opinions expressed on Conservancy Talk and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conservancy


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  1. Great blog, also the Argentine blog, makes us yearn, even more, to be back to Silver Creek and see you and the boys, all 3 of them. We’re shooting for opening day but it will be tight, with our cruise beforehand. Love you guys, Jerry, Cheryl, and Ella.

    1. We can’t wait until you are here!

  2. Fantastic article Dana. Thanks for all you do for conservation and for helping to create the next generation of conservation minded young people

  3. I’ve often been tempted to work on a preserve, it’s a great way to live and be IN nature. Your kids will never forget all this, it’s what they will talk about later in life.

  4. Love your description of life on your preserve with your children. My brother and I grew up on Long Island, NY years ago when if was just starting to become suburban. There were wild strawberry fields, woods to explore and tadpoles to catch as we waded into the pond and wriggled our toes in the pond’s warm sand. Every kid I knew had to know how to amuse themselves and the outdoors was the place to do just that. Your children are so blessed to be close to nature.

  5. Excellent!!! This actually choked me up, remembering growing up in Maine with my naturalist mother. People have grown so far from nature on the whole, and true, it brings so much peace. Simply stepping outside to listen, look and smell can be mesmerizing when you allow it. Bravo for keeping your kids in the “wild”.

  6. Sounds wonderful 🙂 How did you come to be able to live on the preserve? How would someone else who wished to do this go about pursuing the opportunity?

    1. Volunteer! I started as an intern and fell in love with Silver Creek at the right time in my life. I think it helps to have a focus, but to also be flexible- for instance, if you are willing to move, there are often summer positions that can lead to longer term positions or to the right contacts.

  7. Great blog. Brought back many memories of raising our kids on a TNC preserve here in MN. Can’t wait to share some of the same with the granddaughter!

  8. You produced various very good points there. I did a search on the subject and discovered most people will have exactly the same opinion with your blog.

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