One March night, Rick Van Noy and his son, Sam, took to the woods in hopes of spotting vultures that roost inside the Radford city limits. They had been to this spot a couple of times before, but had not been successful in their quest to observe the scavengers.
This night, however, would be different.
As the two hiked through the darkness over sticks and snow, Van Noy stepped on a fallen branch. The breaking branch made a loud cracking sound that scared the vultures out of the trees and sent them soaring into the dark night.
“It spooked us both, but it was exhilarating too,” said Van Noy, a professor of English at Radford University.
Chasing after vultures is just one of the many adventures Van Noy embarks upon with Sam, who is 10 years-old, and his daughter Elliot, who is 9. They swim and fish. They ski in the winter. They turn over rocks in search of salamanders. And sometimes they hike through the woods in search of timber rattlesnakes. Really!
(IN THE PHOTO: Rick Van Noy with his children, Sam and Elliot.)
“Sam love snakes,” Van Noy said of his son. “And he’s not afraid to pick them up.” And Elliot loves animals, too. She once helped nurture a baby opossum.
Those experiences with his children inspired Van Noy to write his most recent book, A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature Through the Seasons. The book, released in June, is a collection of narrative essays recounting the Van Noy’s outdoor journeys. It also serves a guide for parents who want to move their kids away from TV’s warm, glowing warming glow and into creeks and tree houses.
“I wanted to celebrate these experiences,” Van Noy said of writing A Natural Sense of Wonder. “I think I sometimes develop my own sense of wonder through my kids’ eyes.”
Each chapter in the critically acclaimed book details activities that parents and children can do outside through each season, such as building a tree house in the fall, looking for a skating pond in the middle of winter, learning the difference between dragonflies and damselflies in the spring, and diving in a swimming hole in the summer.
Van Noy encourages parents to do as much as possible to get their children outside, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood.
“Don’t be afraid to give it a try and get out,” Van Noy said. “It’s amazing how restorative a walk outside can be and how good it can be for you. There are physical and cognitive benefits as well as ecological benefits. How do you teach kids to care about rivers and animals if they don’t have a relationship with nature?”
Van Noy also takes his writing students outside as well. His creative writing class visits the New River four times a year and writes about the changes they observe around the river during each visit. “It’s a good way to get students away from their immediate concerns, and away from iPods and cell phones,” the professor said. “I think it helps them connect with a larger community and a larger world.”
Helping parents help their kids connect to a larger world is a mission Van Noy cherishes. He grew up as an adventurous kid in New Jersey, near the place where George Washington crossed the Delaware River, exploring all the outdoors wonders of his neighborhood and beyond. Now, as a parent and a college professor, Van Noy wants to help kids, and people of all ages, to learn to explore the beauty and possibilities that lie just beyond the front porch…. even the vultures.