Though his parents once lived in the countryside in Mexico, Juan Martinez grew up in crowded Los Angeles, barely noticing the earth and sky that was masked by the concrete and smog. Six years ago, when Martinez was fifteen, his science teacher proposed he earn extra credit and raise his failing grade by joining the school's ecology club. He found he liked working in the school garden, which led to a trip to the Teton Science Schools, in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. It changed his life.
"Just to be able to see a fresh stream -- not the LA Aqueduct, but to see an actual stream with fish in it -- to actually see the stars was magic," Martinez says. "This happened at a moment in my life when I needed something to motivate me." Today, he leads overnight camping trips for nature-deprived Los Angeles teens and helps them restore their neighborhood parks, even as he studies to become an environmental lawyer. "I can't live without nature," he says. "I've got to have it in my life."
But nature is exactly what's missing from the lives of many urban and suburban and even rural American children and teens, according to San Diego journalist Richard Louv. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv presents evidence that American children are losing a vital aspect of healthy development as they spend increasingly less time riding bikes, climbing trees, fishing, or doing much…
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