When I read the latest topic for the February APLS Carnival, my heart dropped. A "Carnival of Nature" to be hosted here at The Green Phone Booth by fellow eco-hero, Green Raven, aka The Purloined Letter.
I read on. The topic was inspired by Raven's enjoyment of Last Child in the Woods, a groundbreaking and, to me, heart-breaking book about the current generation's disconnection with nature. The author, Robert Louv, argues that many of the "syndromes" we see in our children today - ADD, ADHD, autism, OCD, obesity - stem from the fact that our children spend so little unstructured time out in the wild. He terms it "nature deficit disorder." I mostly read the book last year. I say mostly because I couldn't finish it. Part of the reason was because it was dense and, in my opinion, longer than it needed to be. And part of the reason was because it struck such a chord in me, such fear, such anxiety, that I simply couldn't face it.
Without a doubt, we are raising a generation of "denatured children." Our kids spend most of their time inside because "that's where the electric outlets are." Of course, that's also where mom spends her time. More of it typing on this computer than she should.
But we are also raising our kids in a different environment than we were raised or than our parents and their parents were raised. Not just because of the paranoia regarding stranger abductions and the like, the rates of such seem to be holding steady for the last several generations. Not simply because there are more cars on the road, though there are.
No, we are in a different environment because, at least where I live, there is no nature left.
I make my home on the edge of Silicon Valley. We live tucked between neighbors with neat sidewalks and crisp green lawns separating the homes and the street. Street trees are efficiently lopped off or replaced with trim little varieties that don't drop a colorful show of leaves in the fall. Our downtown is a mix of shops and restaurants that perches only a short walk from home.
Technically, it is called a suburb but it is nothing like those suburbs featured in documentaries and news articles. I cannot remember the last time I saw a vacant lot. Open space does border our town but it is a good ten minute drive and fifteen minute hike through a beer bottle littered park to access.
Do I think nature makes a difference? Does just looking at a wild place cool the blood and calm the heart? Would my overly active, impulsive and inattentive six year old benefit from hours of free time constructing dams and clambering up trees in some mystical forest inhabited by more than some overfed squirrels? Of course.
Do I make valiant efforts to reconnect with those wild places? Sometimes. Sometimes, we get out in nature or what's left of it. Sometimes, we ogle brochures for summer camps set on a farm or in open space. Sometimes, we plan vacations and revel in nature's unruly magnificence. Sometimes, we work to regenerate nature in our yard. And sometimes, like when I'm trying to write on a topic for a carnival hosted at my own blog, I have to admit that reconnecting our children with nature is harder than it should be.
It is harder than is ecologically appropriate as well. Most environmentalists will tell you that dense populations, living in close proximity to shops, jobs and public transportation produce a slimmer carbon footprint. But such a lifestyle also sets our children apart from that the all purpose tonic of nature. It removes them, makes them more susceptible to consumerism and places "where the electrical outlets are". It tries to tame those who are wild at heart.
I'm not sure what the answer is. Whether "growing nature" in our urban parks and yards is enough for our children. Whether the yearly trip to a national park or a summer camp adventure can heal. Whether my exhausted effort to squeeze in a hike once a month can regenerate. Whether the planetary benefits of a more urban lifestyle offset the sacrifice. I don't know. But, for my kids' sake, I hope someone does.
This is The Green Phone Booth's submission for the February APLS Carnival to be hosted here, at The Green Phone Booth, on Friday, February 20th by The Green Raven. If you would like to participate in the carnival, please send a link to your "nature" post to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by Wednesday, February 18.