UPFRONT / INSPIRE
BORN FREE Raised in Sweden, Linda McGurk experienced a childhood immersed in nature, and expected her own, American-born, children to be raised with the same love for the outdoors. However, she experienced a very different attitude to outdoor living in the USA. Her book, There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather, is a funny, insightful take on the cultural differences between the two countries, and how we could all benefit from indulging in a little Friluftsliv – the art of enjoying nature, slowly
I MET AN AMERICAN GUY AND in 2003 moved to Montana, then Indiana. Indiana was a very different world from that I had experienced growing up. In the winter, everything stopped. People were hibernating. Even at other times of the year there seemed to be a lack of connection with nature. This became more problematic when we had kids – my daughters are now 11 and 8. In daycare the kids were never outside, always inside, watching TV. At preschool, they were never outside. In Sweden, outdoor play is part of the national curriculum. In Sweden nature is considered everybody's communal property – we have the right to roam. In the US, access is regulated. There are specific places where you can go hiking, but there are very strict rules. A particular incident brought it home to me. One warm day, I let my kids play in
Get Outside the creek at a nearby nature reserve – something we had done for years. A ranger saw us and slapped us with a fine of over $100. I hadn't even realised we'd done anything wrong! I was upset and angry, and kind of mourning. It became a symbol of the inaccessibility of nature in the US and gave me the idea for my book. I moved back to Sweden to be with my dad while he was recuperating from medical treatment, and took the opportunity to immerse myself and my kids in the culture. I wanted to find out how life would be different for them. We tried cold swimming and saunas – which the girls loved, cross country skiing, and outdoor birthday parties, the friluftsliv life, as we call it. Frilufstliv has been in the Scandinavian culture since the 1800s. The essence is to connect with nature by being in nature. The focus is not on the the activity; being in nature is both the means and the end. You don’t need to be in pristine wilderness; it could
"'FRILUFSTLIV' HAS BEEN IN THE SCANDINAVIAN CULTURE SINCE THE 1800s. THE ESSENCE IS TO CONNECT WITH NATURE BY BEING IN NATURE'"
just be a walk around your neighbourhood – nature is everywhere. Or you might go hiking, foraging for berries, canoeing or camping. It’s about traditional outdoor recreation, but not sports or thrill-seeking! There's some debate; downhill skiing isn't frilufstliv, but cross-country skiing is. It's a slow type of outdoor recreation which doesn’t require a lot of equipment, is inexpensive, and is about educating yourself about nature and survival skills. It's a tradition that gets passed on from generation to generation.
Being outdoors is part of the culture here which helped my children adapt. It’s a group dynamic; kids want to be where other kids are. Parents don’t have to plan out a full outing with activities – it’s important that the kids learn early to entertain themselves outside. The more time they spend outside, the better they learn to use their imagination, creativity. That ability helps them later on, to keep their interest in outdoor play. We had a really great experience returning to Sweden – in fact, we are now living over here permanently.
There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids ( from Friluftsliv to Hygge) is published by Touchstone Books
APRIL/MAY 2019 www.thegreenparent.co.uk