I just finished reading The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, a follow up to his book, The Last Child in the Woods. Louv writes about our growing disconnect with the natural world and how restoring that connection benefits our health, both physical and mental, our families, and our communities. I find his work inspirational and very, very accurate. We humans forget that we are part of nature to our own detriment.
A few years ago, I accompanied my son on a Cub Scout campout when my husband was too ill to go. I hadn’t been camping in decades, and my own connection with the woods had long ago been discarded. I didn’t really want to do. I went into the weekend anxious, expecting to be uncomfortable, cold, and maybe even a little bit bored. I was uncomfortable (the scouts popped my air bed using it as a trampoline), and I was cold despite sleeping in two layers, gloves, and a ski cap, but I was never even a little bored. Rather, I was more relaxed and more genuinely myself than I had been in a decade. I learned that weekend that I NEED to camp, and it surprised me.
We humans tend to forget that we didn’t evolve in air-conditioned homes, lounging on upholstered furniture and watching tv. We are wired for woodlands and prairies, rivers and lakes, mountains and deserts. Our minds and bodies need to hear birdsong, feel breezes, and smell the rich soil of the forest floor. I experienced this connection on that weekend away, and since then I’ve chased the nature high in a number of ways, including hiking in the mountains of upstate New York, trekking through the dunes of Cape Cod, and bird watching in the jungles of Costa Rica.
The central point of The Nature Principle, though, is that I should not need to travel to the ends of the world to get my fix. I can find nature in my daily life here in suburban New Jersey if I take the time to look. The recent addition of bird feeders to our yard is a good start, and the whole family is working to learn to identify the daily visitors to our home. We even have several species nesting in our landscaping, and I have taken to getting my daily dose of birdsong by doing my morning reading out on my porch, sitting in the hammock beneath the house wrens’ nests.
Beyond my own yard, my community has many opportunities to get in touch with nature. There is a huge park with more than 4 miles of running paths a short walk from my home, and it is home to a growing herd of deer, foxes, and coyotes as well as smaller mammals, frogs, turtles, snakes and birds. I usually run there with my headphones on for my training, but taking them off for some of my runs would allow me to have a deeper experience there. There is a county park nearby as well, where the paths aren’t paved and the woods are just slightly more wild. This might be a good spot to take my children on weekly hikes.
Even further out, there is a network of county, state, and national parks that would offer a variety of places to hike, fish, and explore. Perhaps I can make a point of taking my family on a monthly trip to explore a new place, hike a trail they’ve never seen before, and fish a spot they’ve never seen (yes, we fish, but it’s all catch and release). Maybe I’ll even invite other families in our community to join us, forming a little family nature club much like the ones described in the book. Anyone interested in joining in?