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