So often on our site we speak of the importance of real experiences in nature, especially for young children. When we released Sunshine On My Shoulders by John Denver, we took joy in noting the impact that an early childhood nature experience had on him, and by extension, for so many others. This summer, we reflect again on Sunshine.
Three huge eucalyptus trees stood just down the street from John Denver’s boyhood home in Tucson, Arizona. John often climbed those trees. In the embrace of their towering branches he wove dreams of his future. “I loved to sit in them, so removed from the world below, thinking about the things I wanted to do someday, the kind of person I wanted to be,” he wrote later.
John Denver, of course, went on to become one of the most popular singers and songwriters in American history. But he was so much more than an entertainer. True to his friends, the trees, his songs rang with rapture for nature.
For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness would clear a cloudy day…
– from Rhymes and Reasons
If I had a wish that I could wish for your
I’d make a wish for sunshine all the while…
– from Sunshine On My Shoulders
The wind is the whisper of our mother the Earth
The wind is the hand of our father the sky…
In your heart and your spirit let the breezes surround you
Lift up your voice then and sing with the wind.
– from Windsong
In speaking of “Rhymes and Reasons,” John explained that “it comes from the very real and consistent thought that the children and flowers are my sisters and my brothers. I do not feel separate from any aspect or form of life. I feel part of it, and bound to it, and the way I expressed the feeling was to use the phrase ‘the children and the flowers.’ There is a brotherhood there, and a sisterhood… I intend to lead people to the mountains; I intend to lead them back to the Earth, back to the spirit.”
Not only did Denver write and sing remarkable songs in praise of nature, he also founded or actively supported over 22 environmental organizations including the National Wildlife Federation, Save the Children, Plant-It 2000 (now renamed Plant-It 2020), The Cousteau Society, and many others. “In retrospect,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I see that my interest in the environment… was rooted in the things I imagined back when I was swaying from the top of that eucalyptus tree.”