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THE REALITY OF NATURE IN DIFFICULT TIMES

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

For the past couple of days, my younger son and I have been trying to cure our nature-deficit disorder. Right now, I’m sitting in bed in a Bishop, California motel that, well, isn’t the Ritz. Matthew, who is 23, is still asleep, and deeply. A few hours ago we staggered across the clumped grass and mud along the Owens River, struggled to keep our balance as 40 mph gusts tangled our fly lines. We froze and sweated in the sleet as the snow line crept lower on the Sierra. Fishing was terrible, we were miserably cold, and perfectly happy.

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A decade ago, the year the Twin Towers burned, Matthew was 13. That afternoon, I bundled him into the VW van and took him to this very place. His brother was off at college by then, otherwise I would have done the same with him. We fled from the great pain that would lead to greater pain, and drove the six hours from San Diego to the banks of the Owens River, and parked next to the current that washed out all the sound and all the fury. That night, inside the van, we flipped down the table and ate granola bars and drank hot chocolate and watched the window screens grow opaque with a late hatch of insects. And all the next day and the day after that, we cut the electrical cord to the outside trauma, and found a sense of equilibrium.

Recently, Sven Lindblad, who heads Lindblad Expeditions, which works in partnership with National Geographic, told me that, even as other cruise ship companies took a dive following 9/11, his ships, which focus exclusively on the wonders of nature – of the Galapagos, the Antarctic, and other points of interest – filled up with clients. In days following the trauma, families with children were especially drawn to the natural world, and he credits them with saving his business. One must acknowledge the inequity; the people of the drowned parishes of New Orleans or the irradiated mud fields of post-tsunami Japan found no solace in the natural world. Still, in dark times, one human impulse is to find kinship with other species.

At the saturation point, the rush of water on a trout stream is preferable to the inundation of media coverage that, hour after hour, only repeats itself, until our response to the pain on the screen seems to move beyond empathic to gratuitous. How much of our lives is spent adrift in vicarious experience, in second-hand reality: the pain of Libya brought to you by liquid cleansers. I have been a journalist for most of my life, so I understand that the professionals have an important job to do. We do need to know about world events and tragedies manmade and natural, but we also need respite from excessive media static that so often seems drained of reality.

In a virtual world where information overload is more accurately described as information underload, a little raw authenticity and gratitude can be a welcome relief. So perhaps some of us can be excused for escaping the bad news for a few hours or days, as we lean into the wind slashing across a stream, and see the trout begin to rise, and watch a Harrier Hawk glide close along the field, and on the long walk home step over the perfectly white bones of a cow that has not survived the winter, though we did, and not only survived but thrived.

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Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.

14 Comments

  1. Fortunately I have never lost touch with nature. I need this in my daily life. In my backyard after work, even if it’s only ten minutes. Checking to see how the garlic is doing, filling the bird feeder, bringing in the seedlings of summer crops that still aren’t ready to face night time temps. The weekends yield more time to have an early cup a Joe with the birds, then heading across the street to do sone raptor watching and check on my bird boxes along the creek. Most days I’m on my own in the winter. It seems everyone is afraid of a little rain. Cuz of the lack of people, these are the best days to see turkeys, coyotes, wild pigs and maybe some elk.
    Excuse me while I head to the garden to some nocturnal organic slug patrol that involves a headlamp and little stick to squish the buggers so they don’t eat my peas, broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower.

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  2. In september 2011 in the Netherlands and Germany (Berlin) we organize the second NACC meeting on nature education and early childcare. About 70 people can meet, connect and inspire while visiting different sites such as a kindergarden, schools, public play grounds. There is time to reflect and relax as well in a beautiful forested area.
    For more info see http://www.kindvannature.nl/agenda (also in english) or mail to info@veldwerknederland.nl We can send you a flyer about the conference.

    Hope to meet many of you.

    Marc Veekamp

    Netherlands

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  3. I think Mother Nature sometimes demands that we take a step back from our tightly scheduled world with her different weather elements. Yesterday I spent 2 hours with my three children ranging in age from 3 to 13 shoveling out from the 14 inches of wet March snow that recently landed in our yard. Everyone had their shovel and everyone was excited about getting outside. There was a snowball fight/game to keep up the interest and we ended up building a snow bench with one of our piles of snow. When the snow was cleared, everyone enjoyed sitting on the bench and observing the birds who have recently returned and the snow frost falling from the tree branch that a squirrel had just run across. We recharged our bodies in simplicity prior to reentering our home full of technology supported information and comforts. The balance was good.

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  4. What a beautiful entry – and just what I needed today. The tsunami and the war has sucked me into the screen and you’ve reminded me exactly what I need – to unplug and connect with nature and take my children along. Thank you!

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  5. Thank you for the thoughtful words of Nature sensitivity and the helpful reminder. Weathering the high and low tides, Nature is a bridge of strength and solace and is an anchor in times like this. I appreciate C&NN’s outreach and insight. You offer an extra reminder, when I need Nature most – to go make time in the gravity of busyness and heaviness to re-connect. This morning I walked the bay shoreline and saw blankets of cone shaped red algae cast upon the rocks. Blown from the huge storm and high tide last night they rested. This morning I walked by and carried their image as giant leathery red teardrops, and let myself feel the salty tears of grief. Then, with a gull’s call, a crab’s scurrying and anemone’s opening I was refreshed in remembering the mighty resilience of rocky intertidal life.

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  6. Rich, it’s 9:00am in Colorado and I just got inside after spending the last couple of hours in the woods with a log hauling crew. There is a 1500-acre fire burning in the canyon across the ridge but twenty degree temperatures last night calmed the blaze. A few wisps of smoke are curling up from smoldering pinetrees, and 300 firefighters are on the line, working hard to contain the perimeter of the fire before 45-mile-an-hour winds blow in again this afternoon.

    As I was walking out of the woods, I met the sawyering crew coming in. They’ve been doing fire-mitigation cutting all winter, creating shaded fuel breaks, staging areas, and thinning trees in our community forest. We’re using 200 of the cut timbers for the building of a new barn for our community herd of horses.

    It wasn’t until I sat down at my computer that thoughts of Toyko, Libya, or the February decline in the housing market even crossed my mind. But after being outdoors this morning, and very much engaged in the present moment for at least a few hours, I find myself more empathetic and more willing to give thoughtful attention to the virtual news about the world at large.

    Do I feel guilty about the few hours each day that I spend outside, engaged totally with my own little piece of ground, which also happens to be the small square of earth where my community lives? No. The respite from media static, as you so eloquently point out, is necessary if we are to “tune in” to the world’s struggles in any meaningful way.

    Page Lambert
    Senior Associate
    Children and Nature Network
    CONNECTING PEOPLE WITH NATURE
    CONNECTING WRITERS WITH WORDS

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  7. We managed to bring all three of our daughters camping and exploring the outdoors. We spent most of our time in every habitat Florida had to offer and then traveled to Appalachians so they could experience mountain ecosystems.
    They’re now grown and have families of their own. They’ve strayed away from an active involvement with their natural environment, partly because of the pace of life and work, and partly I hate to say because the outdoors has become alien to them. This is quite disturbing to my wife and I as we’ve tried to maintain an active interaction and appreciation of our natural world. Nature’s very much a part of everything we do and we want to try and make it real in the life of our one grandchild.
    Every chance we get, we’ll try and have her with us doing something outdoors; looking at bugs, watching the birds, or hiking. It’s these younger generations that need to capture a sense of belonging to our natural world. Too much has been left to consumption and re-engineered artifical facsimilies of the real natural world. We have to keep striving to create opportunities for awareness and learning. Thanks for the article.

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  8. Robert Michael Pyle

    Beautifully said, Rich, and so right. Everyone needs to know this.

    Larry, slugs are highly evolved for invertebrates and demonstrate response to pain in the laboratory. A much kinder way of dealing with their competition in the garden is: a) learn your local mollusk fauna, and if native, like banana slugs here, transplant them to non-gardened habitats; b) if non-native, like most garden-challenge slugs, gather them into a plastic bag instead of sticking them, freeze them, and then compost them. Not only does this replicate their eventual winter death and is therefore more humane, but it also puts all that borrowed goodness back into your garden through rich compost.

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  9. I’m here on the edge of Washoe Lake – between Carson City and Reno – being blown by that same storm. Spring is the new winter. I love the drama and watching my small herd of horses, alpaca, mini donkey, chickens, and dogs run and play in the excitement of it all. Disappointed however, that this weather means the group of 10 residential treatment center boys that usually come out on Wednesdays for some Nature Play need to cancel as their van is not 4 wheel drive.

    Little Washoe Lake and Big Washoe Lake are nearly connected now – first time in 14 years. We’re hoping to be able to take the residential youth on an adventure canoe or kayak from one lake to the other. I had a meeting with one of the founders of this particular residential treatment center – Philip Tedeschi(sp) – and we chit chatted about how your book has moved and inspired so many folk to reevaluate what is important, and has inspired some institutions to make powerfully positive changes. Last Child in the Woods is THE book I read and reread, send as gifts, and recommend.

    I am applying for Grant and Foundation funds so that I can offer Nature/Animal Assisted classes/adventures to a local charter school for “at-risk” youth. I’ve given copies of your book to the principal and curriculum director, and we’re eager to work together to make this happen.

    My husband – Laird Blackwell – will be adding your book to his Eco psychology class at Sierra Nevada College next fall. Laird also offers wildflower classes/hikes and writes wildflower books/guides, and he will be adding Last Child in the Woods to the list of books he recommends to folks attending these classes.

    Since fishing is nearly impossible, go up to Alabama Hills and sit inside of one of the many magical alcoves – listen, feel, taste the storm and enjoy some stories with your son….mmmm maybe a cup of hot chocolate too!

    Thanks for all you’ve done…and all you continue to do.
    Cheers – Melinda

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  10. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I went for a hike in the hills near home. Today, when the world is a bit too much, I get on my bike and pedal. Nature and movement is such a balm.

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  11. This post reminded me of the poetic statement I heard on the radio from Anthony Gormley as he explained his installation called Horizon Field:

    100 life-size, solid cast iron figures of the human body spread over an area of 150 square kilometers in the High Alps of Vorarlberg.

    According to the artist, Horizon Field asks: “Where does the human project fit within the evolution of life on this planet?

    The works forms a field in which living bodies and active minds are involved in measuring the space and distance between these static iron bodies, and of course people have to acquaint with nature (skiers and hikers)to see and engage the exhibit. When you discover these statues peering out in natural settings it suggests that one can’t be alien from nature.

    This design, the artist notes, “recognizes the deep connection between social and geological territory; between landscape and memory.”

    The artist also recommends that like the barefooted statues: “dispense with your shoes – even if just for 60 seconds -get in touch with the earth – get your most feeling part of your body in touch with all those different surfaces. The idea of this is as an act of solidarity for those that don’t have shoes. Our feet connect with our brains and they are an amazing perceptual instrument through which we engage with weather, with time, with temperature. Through our feet we can begin to be one people standing through gravity on one earth…”

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  12. When I’m all at sea I head to sea. The stars are brighter, the ind is in your hair and you leave your worries on the dock 🙂

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  13. Natural disaster and sorrow and natural wonder and joy are the two sides of the same coin. We can’t have one without the other. Fortunately, the wonder and joy of nature remains as a powerful force for healing despite the natural tragedies in the world. I am reminded of the quick greening of a forest after a fire or the return of a butterfly or bird to a tornado ravaged area. While nature has the power to heal and destroy, I believe that the powers of regeneration and wonder far outweigh the forces to destroy.

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  14. There are a lot of relevant comments from many of us 50-pluses, reminiscing about the good times we had growing up in the Toronto, Ontario suburb of Don Mills at https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_3395185011. Many of us played in the woods and ravines, or hung out in the great outdoors engaging in all sorts of activities. I have provided a link to this blog and to the C & N Network on one of my comments there.

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