TGSG Note: I’m excited to have parent, writer, and environmental advocate, Derek Markham stop by The Guru today. Derek is one of the busiest writers on the web, and also one of the first people I connected with when I joined Twitter. You can read Derek’s work in a variety of places, including The Natural Papa and Twilight Earth. Enjoy the interview — I know I did. See ya outside! ~ The Grass Satin Guru
1. What type of kid were you? And how do you think that impacted your path to become a writer and environmental advocate?
I was a very curious kid, interested in science and finding out how things worked, and I read a lot. I was never satisfied with a single source of information, so I learned to research what I was interested in. I think this made me a little more skeptical of the things I was taught in school – I wanted to learn from ‘first sources’, not some regurgitated revisionist history (like Columbus ‘discovering’ America, or the romantic version of cowboys ‘winning’ the west).
As I got older, I started finding out that some of what we’re taught in school was not accurate, but rather reflected the ‘shiny happy’ version of the modern consumer. This made me hungry to find out what the dissenters thought, and in turn, to try to express myself through writing.
As a child, I was first a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout, so I got plenty of time in the outdoors, learning to be comfortable in nature and in wilderness. These experiences planted the seed of my love for the forests and mountains and streams, and in consequently, my desire to preserve them through my actions and my writing.
2. You and your family lead an amazingly sustainable lifestyle and really walk the walk. Can you tell TGSG readers a bit about that – how it all started and why it is so important to you?
One small step that ended up sparking a lot of thought about my life was becoming a vegetarian – my wife was one, and I resisted it until I started learning about the sketchy nature of our modern industrial food system, especially the meat industry. I thought to myself, “What else in my life is not compatible with my belief systems and my personal standards?” and started questioning my habits and the things I supported with my spending.
By then, I had reached a point in my life where I was working my butt off for a corporation that didn’t care one bit for me, with lots of long hours and minimal pay, and I got so fed up that I was willing to walk out and find a job that was aligned with my beliefs. We were members of our local natural foods co-op, so I started working there, and took a huge pay cut to do so, but it ended up being the catalyst for changing my life.
That job exposed me to people with a wide range of reasons for protecting our environment, people who were activists in one form or another – from the way they spent their money to the way they ate to how they spent their time. We found ourselves wanting to try to live simpler, so we bought a small camper and started our Tiny House Experiment. We learned that we could live without most of the trappings of modern life, and focus on the things that made us happy – family, good food, and a deep connection with nature.
Having children also brought the importance of living sustainably into focus for us. We wanted to teach our children that they could live in a way that was less wasteful and more mindful, and that it wasn’t necessary to go along with the status quo. I know it’s a cliche, but we really do need to think about seven generations out – not just today and tomorrow, but for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
My hope is that this becomes our legacy – the modern lifestyle will be there for our kids if they wish to experience it, but they will know an alternative and not have to learn the hard way, as I did.
3. What are some of your favorite outdoor activities? How are you getting your kids involved?
I love climbing – mostly I go bouldering, as it’s harder to schedule climbing trips with a partner when you are juggling work and family. My kids aren’t so keen on that yet (but I have hopes that they will). I am also an avid rockhound, and always end up with a pocket of really cool rocks when out in nature. Whittling and woodcarving are also favorite activities for me, especially during the hot part of the day here in the southwest – I love sitting in the shade with a sharp knife and a couple of good sticks.
We really enjoy camping and hiking together, and several years ago we did a 5 week camping trip with the kids. They are comfortable in the outdoors, and things like using the bathroom in the backcountry are no problem for them. We use the outdoors as our classroom – our oldest two can identify most of the plants that grow around us, and they know which ones are edible and medicinal. The kids also really enjoy exploring and rockhounding and finding treasures in nature – making ‘fairy houses’ is a favorite pastime for them.
4. Many of today’s kids are indoor kids – spending on average of 6.5 hours a day engaged in screen time. What advice do you have for parents’ to help them reverse this trend?
I think the biggest thing to remember is that as parents, we are responsible for the way they spend their time, and we are in control (in a good way, not a control-freak way). This means that we have the power to set boundaries around both TV and computer time so they aren’t sucked into endless hours in front of the screen.
We got rid of our TV about 10 years ago, and I feel that has had a huge positive effect on our kids – it’s simply not available. Some things we had a problem with was the amount of ads that kids are exposed to on TV, and the subject matter of a lot of kids shows was not in line with our lifestyle – especially the violence and sexual innuendos. If our kids want to watch a movie once in a while, they can do so on the laptop, but we closely regulate the types of movies they can watch.
Even if you aren’t willing to get rid of the TV, make it so that it’s not easily accessible – cover it up, set limits for watching, and don’t set an example of watching hours of TV everyday.
5. There is a Free Range Kids movement catching on in America – a call for parents to move away from fear-based parenting and foster more of a sense of freedom and independence for their children. What are your thoughts on this?
I have to confess, I had never heard of this, but I just did a little research on it, so I know a little now. I guess I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I think raising kids with a little more independence is good. On the other hand, we try to make sure our kids are eating clean, healthy food, are avoiding heinous chemicals, and we limit their exposure to mass media, so I’m leery of taking a more hands-off approach. I think parents need to make the call based on where they live, and the capabilities of their children – and also to be OK with the consequences of it.
I was raised with a bit more freedom in certain areas, and I know plenty of people who say “I watched lots of TV, ate junk food, went to public school, and I’m just fine.”, but when I really look at their life, I would have to disagree. We’ve got massive problems in our society with obesity, mental health, and self-worth issues, especially in kids, so are people “just fine”? I think the jury’s still out on that.
6. I’m sure it rarely happens, but you have a free afternoon to yourself – what do you do?
Yes, it rarely happens, but when it does, I’m on my bicycle, headed for a long cruise, or down at the local bouldering wall. If the weather is not cooperating for those activities, I’m a sucker for a double Americano at the local coffee shop.
Derek Markham Bio: I am a husband, a father, and a carrier of things, I think peanut butter on anything is great, and I love big mountains and little kids, ’cause they make me smile. I’m a nature boy, a tree-hugging dirt-worshiper, and I try to live with reverence for our web of life. Find me at NaturalPapa, DerekMarkham, and SimpleEarthMedia, or hit me up on Twitter.