The Case for More Nature in Our Lives

I just finished  reading The Nature Principle by Richard Louv author of Last Child in the Woods, a book I would still like to find.  I knew before opening to the first page that Nature is important to our well-being, says the one feeling rejuvenated now that I can get outdoors again.  The Nature Principle incorporates a  lot of research but it is presented in a way that flows nicely and doesn’t feel like an academic paper.

During research Louv spoke to school students about nature. Most of the children acknowledged that they preferred indoor activities to being outside but one child, a fifth-grader spoke up.

When I’m in the woods, I feel like I’m in my mother’s shoes. It’s so peaceful out there and the air smells so good. For me, it’s completely different there…it’s your own time.  Sometimes I go there when I’m mad – and then, just with the peacefulness, I’m better. I can come back home happy, and my mom doesn’t even know why.

She went on to describe this beautiful place she called her own.

I had a place. There was a big waterfall and a creek on one side of it. I’d dug a big hole there, and sometimes I’d take a tent back there, or a blanket, and just lay down in the hole, and look up at the trees and sky.

As I read her words I couldn’t help remembering the big weeping willow that was my secret place as a child and the pain I felt when we moved and I learned my tree had been cut down. This child lost her place as well.

I used to go down there every day. And then they just cut the woods down. It was like they cut down a part of me.

I can feel the pain this child feels to have lost her woods, I feel for her but I know one day she will have another place because once you connect to nature it’s in your soul. You never forget how it made you feel. I feel worse for the students who have never experienced time in nature as they won’t have that memory in them to search for later in life.  They will live indoors and raise families indoors unless someone introduces them to the wonders outside their homes.

In 2008, the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed many common words including “acorn, beaver, canary, clover, dandelion, ivy, sycamore, vine, violet, willow and blackberry”.  I look at that list and can’t imagine why these words are now foreign to children.  Who hasn’t seen a dandelion? Tasted a blackberry?  New words and terms were added which included “voicemail, blogs, chat rooms, and Blackberry (the smart phone)”.

I admit in this age of technology our children need to be familiar with how to use it but we have moved our lives indoors and robbed them of another necessary part of their education.

I was lucky to have opportunities to connect with nature which spurred me to learn as much as I could about the natural world but even I have a lot to still learn.

My grandparents would take Sunday afternoon drives. On these drives we would stop at the farmer’s stands and purchase local produce for the week. While my grandfather did the driving my grandmother and I would tell stories based on the shape of the clouds. I grew to love watching the clouds as a result and was excited to study clouds in a college class.

Yet, my education in clouds is sorely lacking when I learned in this book that clouds can predict earthquakes, based on information gleaned from the Cloudspotters Guide. Wish I had known that the year I lived in California.

Those who live closer to nature will notice little things the rest will miss.  One man realized non-native trees on his property weren’t being eaten by insects. Yet the native trees were. You might think that is a good thing but it isn’t.  By planting non-native trees we are starving the local insects of necessary food and larger animals depend on those very insects for their survival. We have forgotten the lessons of the web of life.  There are people trying to teach children about the web of life such as Kids Planet with a spider telling a story.

Louv goes on to explain how our society that moves from place to place leaves us knowledgeable about our natural surroundings and makes a strong case for living in one place.  As a child I knew the woods and all the secret places in my local area. I knew where I could go to listen to the most birds, where fewer people would be, the best places to fish and so on.

As an adult I moved around quite a bit. Some of those locations I stayed at for short periods of time and never learned where the best places in nature were.  Our short stay in New Mexico we spent more time visiting museums and other institutions than we did exploring nature.

Louv goes on to explain that when we live in place instead of moving around we are better able to effect change in our communities. We can build the bonds with others in our community to improve schools, develop a local food movement and more.

All this is good but time in nature also changes our outcome later in life.  Adults who walked where there were trees and plants showed improvement in self-esteem, mood and a reduction of stress more than those who walked indoors (who had little to no reduction in stress levels). Alzheimer’s patients who are exposed to garden spaces show “improved group interaction, reduced agitation and less wandering.”

If exposure to nature helps adults just think what it can do for children.  We now know children who experience stress show signs of premature aging later in life. It makes sense to give our children the best start possible and that would be to get them outside and not just for organized group sports.

Finally, Louv found that if we want children to pay attention to issues such as climate change and the world they will encounter we need to talk in positive terms. We don’t have to sugar-coat it, but we can give them hope.  Louv talked to students about the need for new technologies, new sources of energy, changes we can make to schools, new types of agriculture, and new urban designs. He talked of the changing workplace and the role of health care in the future that includes climate change. He gave them ideas they could focus on and who knows maybe one of those students will redesign our cities or change laws to encourage food gardens in the front yard.

Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.
– Hubert Reeves

 

 

 

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22 comments

  1. You know you are preaching to the choir here on this subject. Even though I like being indoors with technology, I need to spend time outdoors. Sometimes it’s in a beautiful peaceful setting like the girl described or sometimes, it is examining and learning about things I see–all of the plants, creepy-crawlies, birds and animals.

    I noticed when we went into the woods with my boys when they were young, you could literally see them come alive like in no other place. We did this a lot because it was so rewarding for all of us even though we had to drive several miles to do it.

    As for cutting down the tree, I have a story also. When my son was six, we made a 1000 mile move. He was highly anxious about the whole thing and took a long time to adjust. However, we had a maple tree in the backyard that was his climbing tree. He would climb fairly high in the tree where he couldn’t be seen and spend a lot of time there. It always calmed him. When he was more comfortable, he, his brother, and the neighbor boy spent a lot of time playing in that tree. My son even wrote a couple of poems about.

    Enter in the sapsucker. Over the course of a few years, that bird essentially destroyed the tree enough that we had to cut it down for safety reasons. It was a sad day for me to see the tree go that had been such a comfort to my son during one of his most difficult times.

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    • I feel your pain in cutting down your son’s favorite maple tree. It pains me to see any tree cut down especially if it’s one loved by children. The first tree I fell in love with was chopped down after we moved. As a teen I drove by to show a friend where I used to live and saw both the house and the tree were gone. The house being gone didn’t bother me much but the tree…..it haunted me for weeks.

      If there was ever a lesson in what happens when a nature lover is deprived of being outdoors it would be me after a long winter. I truly need to be in contact with the earth and experience all my senses come alive out there to be a peace.

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  2. I just can’t understand people who don’t like to be outside – especially kids. But that’s how my brother was. My parents were forever buying him outdoorsy things in an effort to get him doing something (he had a weight problem). I can remember seething with jealousy as he received bikes and hiking boots, and a zillion pieces of sports equipment, all of which sat around gathering dust – at least until I appropriated it.

    I just got home from a long ride with CatMan – we rode one of my favorite routes – through a big state park, and up over Dinosaur Ridge – which is the first big hill between Denver and the mountains – it basically sits between Denver and Red Rocks Park (where the rock concerts are held). There are dinosaur footprints and other fossils there, hence the name, and when you get to the top you’ve got an amazing view in all directions. Anyhow, it’s a pretty steep climb and, as usual, CatMan left me in the dust. But as I was pluggin’ along a man was walking down the hill – he made a funny comment about my big smile and how he hoped I’d still have it once I reached the top. The part that struck me was that I was totally unaware of the fact that I was smiling. This actually happens regularly when we ride – people will comment on my smile… apparently I’m just physically incapable of riding my bike without smiling!

    Anyhow, the timing of your post is ironic, because as we were riding, I kept thinking of the many “wild places” that I inhabited as a kid. We had a big weeping birch tree in the front yard. We lived just half a block from the school, so I’d run home when school let out and climb up the tree to spy on all the kids walking home. Last time I drove past, I saw that it was gone. Sigh. And the “woods” where we used to go climb trees and explore have now been turned into a condominium complex. And all the vacant lots where the stream ran… that used to have cattails taller than we were, have now been built out – the stream re-routed into a metal culvert. Heavy sighs. One summer, my best friend and I went on a “picnic mission” – we’d pack a lunch and head out on our bikes to find a new “wild place” – I bet most of them have been paved over by now.

    I’m rambling… I guess I don’t really have a point other than that it makes me really, really sad to hear of children growing up without a love for nature and the outdoors. It’s always been something that “fills me up” and I can’t imagine life without it.

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    • I am not surprised you smile while riding, you love it so. When we love what we are doing it shows to everyone else.

      One of my current neighbors hates to be outside. He said he thinks it’s because when he was little his mother wouldn’t let him get dirty and would get upset and wash him immediately if he did. I can see how that would turn him off but it’s hard for me to understand why he isn’t interested in changing that.

      I can’t name the number of wild places or trees that have disappeared since I was little and enjoyed them. I took my boys to as many as were still there when they were little but they tell me even those places are disappearing and they can’t share them with their children.

      So you were the neighborhood snoop? That’s hilarious that you enjoyed watching the other kids from your spot in the tree. My first tree was a weeping willow. I loved the canopy that hid me from view and I could just be myself with my books.

      There are a couple of kids around me now that hate being outside and it makes me sad. One of my grandchildren, while loving to be outside refuses to eat outside. It drives me crazy because I can’t imagine a better place to enjoy a meal.

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  3. Thank you, Lois, for this reminder of how important Nature is to us. I remember a special place I had when I was a child, too. There’s something about getting out in the air with the movement of the wind and the sound of birds that connects something deep within us to something greater than can be imagined.

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  4. I hate to say it Lois, but this is not new. I grew up without any awareness of nature. Had never tasted a blackberry and only stole a plum off a tree while walking down a city street. I had no idea for the most part where food came from. I wasn’t allowed in the commissary when my mother shopped. We never, ever went to the grocery store until I was old enough to drive myself there to a civilian store. Grandparents lived in a flat in Germany and the other in a tiny house on a busy city corner. Moving with the military gave us very little exposure. Living in Georgia on base for a few years there were forests but they were infested with poisonous snakes or military maneuvers. My kids were city kids but had more exposure to the natural world but not by much. They did finally have a home for 8 years that had a yard to play in and I finally learned about fresh food. That sounds like a great book and I’m always sad to see more trees cut down to make more housing. I’m kind of glad my children didn’t have children. I love my trees now. Growing stuff as fast as I can to leave behind when I’m gone.

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    • There has always been a bit of a nomad in me and being a loner I thought moving around as a military family would be a fun way to see the world. I never thought that for some families the base was the extent of their experiences.

      I too hate to see trees cut down. One of the first things a couple of my neighbors suggested I do when I moved in was to cut down the trees around my house. Even when I said no, they insisted I should. It’s summer and they are complaining about how hot their houses are, I point out how cool mine is BECAUSE of all the trees that filter the sun. Maybe they will come around one day.

      I’m a bit surprised you are glad your children didn’t have children of their own. Is that because of the environmental issues the youth face or some other factor?

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      • Yes Lois, the environment and the economical issues are deeply troubling. I’ve always had mixed feelings about grandchildren. It’s a different world and not all that kind. We are on the verge of annihilating our planet and each other. Why would I want to put anyone through that? Some days after you see what’s going on out there it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other and I’m an optimist!

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        • I thought that might be the reason. I too have mixed feelings as you know. I love my grandchildren but fear for their futures. All I can do is try to introduce them to skills that might help and show them everything I can while it’s still here. Maybe one of them will come up with a solution to save the world. One can only hope.

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  5. I relate to what you have written here Lois and the Author of the book, I know how it hurt me when they built new homes upon a wonderful meadow not all that far from me.. Pulling down hedgerows of Hawthorn that had been there for Decades. Which had a knock on effect to all the nesting birds.
    I grew up as you know in the rural hills and Dales of Derbyshire, and knew ever nook and cranny within the little wooded areas and the brookes and streams, Climbing the limestone rocks and sliding down the shale hill sides of the valley with the narrow path of a walk way between.. While cows and sheep grazed and local ponds were full of newts, back then it was common to see a Salamander newt, now they are very rare..

    Mankind has little thought to his encroachment upon Nature and its affects. I live in hope as I see schools now teaching Nature classes, and in our area they have a small allotment on our plots, and showing them how to grow their own and respect Nature..
    We still have a long way to go though for those big corporations who cut down Amazonian Rain Forests..
    And those who are in power right now who are not helping their own countries clean up their acts of pollution.

    All we can do Lois is do our own thing in our own corner of the world and try by bringing awareness to others to do the same thing..

    One ripple at a time may one day create a tidal wave of Change..
    Love and Blessings Lois
    Sue xx

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    • Oh, Sue, how painful that must have been for you. I some times feel that it’s only our generation that feels the losses of the natural spaces but now I hear my sons lament that the places I took them too are no longer there for their children. So, yes even the younger ones are noticing.

      I wish nature classes were taught here. There’s a little girl who lives across from me who has adopted me as her teacher this summer and questions me on every thing about nature. Yesterday, the subject of how trees cleaned the air came up and she was running back and forth between areas devoid of trees and then my property filled with trees and plants to smell the difference in the air. She makes me smile just knowing that if we introduce them to the world around them they are eager to learn.

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