A recent Newsweek article, pointed out to me by Stephanie, posits that human experiences in nature are of tremendous psychological value to us. For example, after a stressful event at work, even the view out of a window seems to have the ability to help us calm down. But the Newsweek story has a frightening part as well: the idea that our children's lack of experiences in nature may determine how humans treat the planet. "With every generation, kids are lowering their knowledge and expectations for what is a normal interaction with nature," argues the author, "creating a kind of generational amnesia about the natural world. City kids know about pollution in the abstract, for example, but have no idea that their air is a far cry from the clean air their grandparents breathed."
For this month's APLS carnival, I asked participants to address the issue of how their environmentalism and their connection to nature might be related. I am pleased to present this collection here for your reading pleasure and edification.
An excellent place to start your reading is Sherry's beautiful blog, Quiet Nature, devoted entirely to the subject of the environment. Her posts range from suggestions for action to meditations on our connection to to the world.
In her post for this carnival, Heather is thinking about the power of Big Nature--from the Grand Canyon to giant sequoias-- to make us see "how small we truly are." It is through this realization that we can become "awed, inspired, and moved to revere" the planet, "to care for and protect as it has cared for and protected us." Recognizing humanity's part in the larger world can lead us to reject the idea of humans having dominion over nature. As the old song says, the earth is our mother who bore us, and who will take us back when we die.
Robbie tells of her adventure at Yellowstone National Park, complete with memories of the soundtrack on the car stereo. She was awestruck by the beauty of the geyser and the thermal pool--but also stunned that visitors had turned these natural wonders into trash dumps: "If we can't look nature straight in the eye and appreciate and respect God's creation, what is wrong with us as a people?"
(For a more extensive discussion about the damage humans can do to wild areas, see Mike Vandeman's extended response to my initial call for posts.)
Cath explains that when she was a child, she "loved all things furry, feathery and blubbery" and was moved by environmentalist organizations' pleas to save individual species. While she has "never lost this passion for the natural world," she is now troubled by that very kind of activism. "I've become much more aware of the importance of an animal's habitat and ecosystem," she explains. "The glamorous, photogenic species are just the tip of the iceberg; we can't save the whales while ignoring the plankton. Systemic changes such as the warming of the air and acidification of the oceans are a threat at all levels." She calls on us to think about those larger questions instead of the romanticized portrayals designed to appeal to our emotions. She answers these campaigns by changing the message: "The entire planet is in crisis--And you're worrying about a few seals."
Citizen Green asks us to consider the question "What is nature?" As she states, nature "does not have to be jaw-dropping to have an impact on someone." Whether she spots snakes or baby birds while going about her day, she is always thrilled to see "nature going about her business paying no attention to me or mankind."
Nature on this smaller scale is the subject of many of this carnival's posts. Jenni points out that learning to see nature needn't be anything major. It "doesn’t need to be a marathon of hiking while dragging whiny, overtired children along behind you," she writes. "It can be as simple as setting up base camp on a picnic blanket and allowing your children to satellite out and explore around you." Watching nature videos might teach us details of life in the wild, but Jenni is hoping for something else--something both simpler and deeper--when she takes youngsters out: "These moments aren’t really exotic or exciting. But unlike what we experience on our screens, they are real."
Abbie, too, appreciates her immediate outdoor world. She grew up on her family's farm where nature was always a big part of her life. She spent a lot of time "outside with [her] family, working and playing" which she feels helped her "feel more connected to the rest of the world." In her post, she provides a list of ideas for enjoying time outside--from rollerblading in parks and swimming in the town reservoir to grading papers outside and shopping at the farmer's market.
Carmen agrees with Abbie that daily interaction with nature shaped her current thinking. As she writes, "When I look back at my own childhood, it is those simple experiences with nature shared with my friends and family that have had the biggest impact on my desire to preserve and care for the world." She shares her love of the outdoors with her own children by doing everything from camping to rock climbing to going on picnics--and even to composting their food wastes for next year's garden.
Encounters with the natural world "have a powerfully magnetic effect on my girls," writes Steph. "A part of them hears the call of the wild." She recognizes that the relationship to nature is so elemental that it cannot be denied. "It is faster to stop and take in the connection to nature than it is to try and hurry them along," she acknowledges--but even when she does not want to stop to appreciate the surrounding natural world, she often discovers that it speaks to her soul. "Thank you, girls," she says, "for patching these calls through to me."
JessTrev also resists the romantic "fuzzy polar bear cub" version of nature. Instead, our love of nature can be expressed by everything from gardening to running around with the family dogs. The part that seems most essential to her is how nature encourages the expression of some fundamental part of our humanness: the need to run free. "Kids should be able to putter and daydream for hours on end all by themselves," she argues, "without being monitored." This confidence that one can be "alone in the woods may be a prerequisite for happiness and self-sufficiency,"--both for children and adults. Joyce recognizes that this theme weaves through many of the Carnival posts. As she notes in the comments to JessTrev's post, "As I've been reading all the posts people are putting up for the APLS Carnival, I'm struck by a common theme: [the importance of] unstructured time for children."
EcoBurban suspects that the economic crisis might encourage us to spend more time with our children in the outdoors. Although in previous years her family might have taken a midwinter vacation at Disney or a ski resort, this year they are saving money--and building family relationships--by having the children spend a week off from school with their grandfather having an informal adventure in the woods of Michigan. She imagines that other families may also find that economic restrictions might actually strengthen their connections to their fellow humans and to the natural world at large.
Daphne is grateful for the fact that she has lived in places that allowed her to enjoy wild areas. As she writes, "The neighborhood is safe. It is not close to public transportation or major roads, so the only people that come here live here. It was an idyllic place to bring up kids." But she grapples with the negatives of the area as well: "Green it was not. Not being on public transportation has caused a lot of issues. This means longer car trips, tearing down more trees for homes in the wild, building more roads." Her essay concludes, "I think the love of nature often causes more problems to nature than it solves."
Green Bean has been thinking about similar issues, but from the other side. As she points out that in an urban environment, dense populations of people "living in close proximity to shops, jobs and public transportation produce a smaller carbon footprint." Although this lifestyle might have fewer immediate negative effects on the environment, there also seem to be some risks. An urban lifestyle can separate us from easy experiences in nature--and children raised without a sense of connection with the natural world might be more susceptible to both consumerism and a plugged-in life.
Experiencing nature can happen everywhere, even in "the warmth and safety of a store," writes Tina. Her family saw emu eggs on the shelf and "it transported us to thoughts of a distant environment." In all the times she sees nature, however, Tina recognizes that human intervention has the power to destroy. "Whether it be a distant creature I've never encountered or the forests that surround my neighborhood, I want nature to continue running its course uninterrupted," she writes. "I want to make sure that no one has to infringe on what land is left near me. I'm selfish, and I want my forests to stay forests, so I try to do what I can to keep everyone else from needing them for lumber, farming or building."
I think Beth might disagree, at least in part. "Nature isn't something out there to be saved," she writes. "It's us. Right here. Wherever we are." She argues that "every breath reminds me that there is nothing separating me from anything else." We need to use this sense of connectedness to each other and to the earth as we go forward.
Not everyone feels that nature directs their environmentalism.
Like me, Jaime writes that although she had a childhood full of experiences in the wild, she is now quite content to stay home. As she says, "I'm fine curling up with a good book." Throughout her early years when she was spending more time in outside world, she "was clueless about sustainability," as she says. "I started learning about sustainability after I moved to the suburbs, miles from a major interstate and minutes from a major city." Interestingly, her quest for a more sustainable life has led her to an enjoyment of gardening and an increased connection to the bounties of nature.
Finally, Ruchi reminds us that if nature is the world out there, it can never be as meaningful as what is right here around us and part of us. "I am an environmentalist," she writes, "but I don't care much about 'nature.'" that is, the world without humans. "So today, instead of celebrating nature, I'd like to celebrate our world as a whole. Some of it green and filled with trees, some of it is made of tall concrete buildings. But it is all of it...our world. And I love every bit of this world, and its delights and imperfections, dearly."
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Jaime will host the next APLS carnival over at Green Resolutions. She is calling on us to share information about our favorite charities. What an important time to address this topic! I can't wait to read everybody's thoughts. Send in your posts to aplscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks, everybody!