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.

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Photo of Virginia Bee Ward, author and poet, by her mother, Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Dear Virginia,

Time has slipped by, and I’ve been meaning to write to you. I met you about a year and a half ago at a conference of environmental educators in Asheville, North Carolina. You were 11 years old then.

Your mother had brought you to one of my sermonettes. The two of you were sitting in the front row as I spoke.

Afterwards, I was signing books and I saw you in the line. You politely and solemnly handed me a book to sign. You told me you had a question. I leaned across the table to hear you. You asked:

“What does it feel like to finish a book?

Maybe I was tired that day. I answered by paraphrasing someone else’s quote:

“Books are never finished, only abandoned.”

I don’t recall who I attributed that line to that day. In slightly different wording, it’s been credited to writers and poets Paul Valéry, W. H. Auden, and Oscar Wilde; or, when referencing art, attributed to Picasso or Leonardo da Vinci. And others. It’s a meme more than a quote. Writers. Artists. Bricklayers. We all bemoan the feeling that the thing we’ve created is never quite right. I told you how every time I pick up one of my books I see a sentence, a paragraph, sometimes a chapter, that I wish were better, that I still want to rewrite. The book is never finished.

Only abandoned.

You told me you want to write books. So, I shared a few encouraging words. Start now. Write a journal, launch a blog. Self-publish your own books (established authors are doing that more and more). Don’t wait. Write now.

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Someone else handed me a book and I turned to sign it. When I looked back, you were gone. I hadn’t finished what I wanted to say. I worried that I had discouraged you with that line about abandonment.

I was still signing books when I began to receive a string of text messages from your mother: “On the way home, my daughter was telling me what you told her, that ‘Books are never finished, they’re only abandoned.’ But she said you should have added another line: ‘They’re abandoned, but then they are adopted by the reader.’”

Virginia, that was such a reassuring and wise thing to say. Sometimes words do move out and into other hearts and homes, where they are given more life.

And she wrote something else, about our shared cause: connecting children and adults and communities to the natural world.

“Rich, as you said in your speech, it will take a river to succeed, to reach the place where we see a future that is green and growing and positive. We need us all. There will be those that are like prophets who see the future that could be; those that are the operationalists to devise a plan to reach that future; and those that are politicians who figure out how to make it all work in reality.”

In a final text message, your mother spoke of you again, describing how convinced you are that you will become an author. And she believes that you will be one of the ones who will “galvanize and awaken the others who are needed to make it all work.”

A few weeks later, your mom let me know that you had recruited your friends to start a young author’s club, and that she had offered some operational suggestions.

“She would have none of it,” your mother told me. She repeated what your said to her, ‘Mom this is all mine…I got this.”

Virginia, your mother also said that you wondered if I had really meant it when I asked you to send some of your writing. She told you that I did mean it. And later, you sent me a story and a poem of yours:

The waves melt into the sand
As they splash against the shore
Beating against the land
Of cliffs to one day explore
The sun shines down leaving lonely tourists wanting more
As the moon comes the light fades
Into the empty abyss of past days
—Virginia Bee Ward, 2016

I love your words, Virginia. May I adopt them? I will not abandon them.


Richard Louv
 is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network and the author of “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age,” “VITAMIN N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life,” and other books.

More writing and resources:
15 Characteristics of Leadership Writing
Writers on Writing: A collection of quotes that inspire me
The Lady Across the Lake: How nature stimulates creativity and community
The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Schools Become, the More Nature they Need
Are You a Leader?
Learn more about the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation


  1. Richard, the time you took to revisit your encounter with Virginia strikes me as exactly what she needed at this point in her young life. Feedback from accomplished adults whom they admire moves young people in ways we don’t always see. It was wonderful to read, and I have all the confidence in the world that she will write throughout her life, about the earth that SHE sees and values. Bravo!

  2. Splendid.

  3. If we can only touch one child’s heart and mind we have succeed in furthering that child’s development with nature.

  4. really an amazing blog, appreciable work, thank for all this, keep it up

  5. Joseph Baust & Jennie Knight

    Children…our hope for the future, the way to change the hearts and minds of those most apt to change the world…connecting to them in an honest and caring way WILL make a difference for our earth.

  6. My emails always have this in my signature block: “The success of a child is the surest measure of the adults who surround him.” It has proven true so many times…and again in this telling of your story. Richard Louv, surrounding all our children with his wisdom of how we are made to be with the world created by the same maker. We can’t separate ourselves from our natural world or each other without becoming less than we were meant to be. Thank you for always reminding us of how much better we can be.


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