Thursday, March 31, 2011

For Earth Month

The following is my column for this month's church newsletter.

Getting Outside

In the poem Native Trees by W.S. Merwin, disconnect from nature is described:

Neither my father nor my mother
knew the names of the trees
where I was born

How familiar a condition that is – while some of you may know a great deal about our native plants or animals, or this land in general, most of us do not. A study a few years back reported that children knew more Pokemon creatures than they did the names of animals that live in their local area. I would bet that many children can name more dinosaurs correctly than they could local species, as well. W.S. Merwin continues later in the poem:

Surfaces of furniture held
The attention of their fingers
And across the room they could watch
Walls they had forgotten

We spend so much of our time indoors! Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, has this to say: “Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.” If this is a problem – I think it is, but you may not – what is the solution? If we do not feel connected, if we are ignorant of, if we are separated from, our natural home – the place on earth and in the interconnected web of life we occupy – how does this affect us and the way we live our lives? If children grow up knowing all the problems and the dangers and the guilt of environmental concern, but don’t know the joy of climbing a tree or collecting wildflowers or of having a special “place” they go to, how can they be loving stewards and protectors of the earth? Luckily, the solution can be something pretty simple. Go outside. Look. Listen. Get some guidebooks. Start a nature journal. Take a walk. Sit by a pond. Climb, or just hug, a tree. Explore. This year for Earth Day, give yourself and the children in your life the gift of nature, of loving a place, before you worry about all the rest. Think “Connect, Respect, Protect”, and make the connection come first. Get outside those walls you have forgotten are there, and focus on the trees more than the furniture.

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