Empowering Outdoor Families: Interview with Outdoor Mom Aly Nicklas

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In today’s ultra-tech­no­log­i­cal soci­ety, it’s become chal­leng­ing to raise fam­i­lies who feel con­nect­ed to the out­doors. In response, film­mak­ers Aly Nick­las and Alisa Geis­er have cre­at­ed a project called Born Wild, a mul­ti-faceted endeav­or which aims not only to inspire, but to empow­er fam­i­lies to grow out­side. Through a series of films and an online hub for con­nect­ing out­door fam­i­lies, Born Wild, a project that was fund­ed suc­cess­ful­ly through Kick­starter, aims to inspire imag­i­na­tion in urban set­tings, explore how fam­i­lies pass on an out­door her­itage over gen­er­a­tions and demon­strate how rais­ing kids con­nect­ed with their innate wild­ness leads to hap­pi­er and health­i­er lives. I sat down with Aly, one of the direc­tors, pro­duc­ers and co-founders of the project, to talk about the chal­lenges of rais­ing an out­door fam­i­ly, and how Born Wild will pro­vide the knowl­edge and the tools to make it eas­i­er.

THE CLYMB: Let’s start at the begin­ning of the project. What was the inspi­ra­tion for the Born Wild project and how did you get start­ed?

ALY NICKLAS: It came togeth­er pret­ty organ­i­cal­ly. Shan­non, Brooke, and I met last sum­mer on a back­pack­ing trip, and they asked me to shoot some pho­tos for an arti­cle they want­ed to write about par­ent­ing in the out­doors, and my first reac­tion was, “this would be an amaz­ing short film!” It just took off from there—it very quick­ly became this much larg­er thing where we real­ized there was a need for this type of con­tent and inspi­ra­tion. We’ve real­ly let the project lead itself. It was going to be one short film and that was it, but it’s grown expo­nen­tial­ly since then.

The Clymb: Tell me about the three films. How do they dif­fer from each oth­er and what themes did you want to con­vey in each?

AN: The first film in the series is about these three moms, and we’re struc­tur­ing it as an intro­duc­tion to this lifestyle. We want to present pre­scrip­tive infor­ma­tion like how par­ents make it hap­pen despite the chal­lenges, and explore the ben­e­fit to kids and par­ents of spend­ing time outside—it con­nects us as fam­i­lies as well as con­nect­ing us with the plan­et. Con­ser­va­tion is a big part of our mes­sage.

The sec­ond film in the series, which we are film­ing in August, is called “Wild Inher­i­tance”. We’re going back­pack­ing with three gen­er­a­tions of one fam­i­ly into the Wind Riv­er Range in Wyoming. It’s about the lega­cy we leave our kids and what that impact is on a fam­i­ly from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. We have Grand­ma Jan and her five kids and numer­ous grand­chil­dren— her chil­dren are rais­ing their kids in a sim­i­lar way that she raised hers. It’s cool to see what that long-term impact is. For a most of the grand­chil­dren it’ll the most time they’ve ever spent in nature, which is going to be real­ly inter­est­ing from a trans­for­ma­tion­al per­spec­tive.

The third film is focused on find­ing wild­ness is urban envi­ron­ments. Our ques­tion is “How do we find wild every­where?” and how do we cre­ate space for cre­ativ­i­ty and pos­si­bil­i­ty when sur­round­ed by city streets.

static1.squarespaceThe Clymb: What out­door expe­ri­ences did you have in your child­hood that shaped your phi­los­o­phy with the project?

AN: I grew up in Alas­ka, and my par­ents were very avid out­door peo­ple. My father was a huge ski­er and my moth­er was into swim­ming and canoe­ing, so we were fish­ing, camp­ing and back­coun­try ski­ing since I was born. I had a very free-range child­hood, and spent every spare moment out­side. When I was real­ly young we didn’t have a TV, and I had to be dragged inside at the end of the day. I spent a lot of time build­ing tree hous­es and get­ting lost in the woods. Reflect­ing back, my child­hood was pret­ty wild. I was giv­en a lot of room to let my imag­i­na­tion cre­ate what­ev­er worlds I want­ed to and it shaped who I am and what I care about in very tan­gi­ble ways. And now, as an adult, I still spend every minute I can out­side and have a deep desire to pro­tect our wild places, and I believe that’s very much because it’s how I was raised.

The Clymb: What was the spark moment where you want­ed to turn this into a film?

AN: I orig­i­nal­ly thought it would be some­thing short and sim­ple, but then we put it out in the world and it took off in a real­ly big way. It was clear that Born Wild could con­tribute towards this larg­er move­ment of recon­nect­ing kids with nature. I get mes­sages from peo­ple who’ve said fol­low­ing our project has real­ly empow­ered them to get out there with their kids and how won­der­ful it feels to be out­side. As a film­mak­er I’m com­mit­ted to telling sto­ries that can impact social change in a pos­i­tive way. This project is an amaz­ing amal­ga­ma­tion of so many things that I care deeply about: health, the human/nature con­nec­tion, con­ser­va­tion and our need to play, which shouldn’t be over­looked. I think as adults, we for­get that we need to play too. Get­ting out­side with our kids allows that to hap­pen.

The Clymb: How do you think that moth­ers can best main­tain their own active out­door lifestyles after hav­ing chil­dren?

AN: The out­door lifestyle can be intim­i­dat­ing with­out kids let alone them into the mix, and some of the best advice I’ve heard was from Brooke Froelich, who appears in the film. She said, “If some­body is feel­ing stuck and feel­ing intim­i­dat­ed about where to start, I think the best way is to just go. To just put one foot in front of the oth­er. To make lit­tle goals that are attain­able and find easy trails and not big mileage and just keep on mak­ing those goals and keep on mov­ing for­ward. Before you know it, you’re on top of a big moun­tain.”

That can be a lot of things. You don’t have to go out and rock climb or sum­mit 14ers or any­thing that’s too much for you, but try incor­po­rat­ing it into your dai­ly life and mak­ing it a pri­or­i­ty.

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The Clymb: What are some of the chal­lenges that out­door fam­i­lies face in today’s soci­ety?

AN: Mak­ing time for the outdoors—even if it’s going just to the park. Our cul­ture is very results-focused. That’s not a bad thing, but it can detract from our qual­i­ty of life. That’s the beau­ti­ful thing about spend­ing time out­doors: the ben­e­fits that come from that…you can’t quan­ti­fy them. There’s a soul part of us that is real­ly nour­ished by the out­doors and, as humans, we need that. Time gets in the way. But if you’re spend­ing your whole life try­ing to check box­es off does it real­ly equate to liv­ing? How many skills can your kid have? How many class­es can they take? I believe that’s impor­tant too, but I also think there’s a lot to be said about not struc­tur­ing every minute of the day.

The Clymb: How do you feel that Born Wild might have an effect on fam­i­lies who don’t have close access to a nation­al park or wilder­ness area?

AN: That’s anoth­er huge bar­ri­er to the out­doors: loca­tion and mon­ey. Our objec­tive with the third film is to illus­trate the fact that we can find wild­ness every­where. As a kid, you don’t need to go to a nation­al park to inspire your imag­i­na­tion. If there’s an emp­ty lot next door with a bush, for exam­ple, you can turn that into a cas­tle. I think find­ing fam­i­lies that are mak­ing it hap­pen despite those challenges—showing them and lead­ing by example—will be inspi­ra­tional and help­ful for fam­i­lies who don’t have the same access as peo­ple in a more priv­i­leged posi­tion.

The Clymb: Beyond the films, what resources will you be offer­ing par­ents who want to pro­vide more out­door life for their chil­dren?

AN: We’re build­ing out an online mag­a­zine which will be a web­site of infor­ma­tion, how-to’s, phi­los­o­phy pieces, sto­ries, inter­views, short videos and gear reviews. We are cre­at­ing a hub for out­door par­ents. We want to have a map where, say you live in San Fran­cis­co, you can find com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and sign up to do a group hike. Our goal is to break down some of the bar­ri­ers that get in the way as well as facil­i­tate fam­i­lies get­ting out­side and find­ing real con­nec­tions in the world. The films are just one piece of a much big­ger project.

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The Clymb: What’s been the most excit­ing part of the project and how is the project going to con­tin­ue after the films?

AN: The most excit­ing part of the project is hear­ing from these par­ents how Wild is empow­er­ing, influ­enc­ing and inspir­ing them to go out­side with their kids and real­iz­ing that they can do it. When we see oth­er peo­ple doing things, we think “maybe I can do that too.” Hav­ing a com­mu­ni­ty grow around the project has been so inspir­ing and grat­i­fy­ing.

Fol­low the Born Wild Project on Face­book and Insta­gram.