Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review - Last Child in the Woods

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Richard Louv - ©2005

I Read This Book Because:
Many of the aspects of my life growing up could be considered unlucky, but where I grew up is not one of them. Growing up in a small rural town, nestled into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, provided the exact Rx to treat the emotional wounds we all endure while growing up. While immersed in nature, either damming a small creek, or building sandcastles along the river, or blasting off into space in my rocket ship/maple tree, I was completely at ease with myself. I was alert to noises, sounds and sights—relaxed, yet fully engaged. There, my imagination ran as free as I did, and I hardly noticed the hours slipping by as the shadows grew long. I came home refreshed and unburdened, capable of handling the next days’ crises.

As I grew from an happy-go-lucky kid to an anxious teenager, I’d retreat to special places in the woods, or near the river to think. Somehow, confiding in beings infinitely more ancient than myself, my problems seemed trivial. As the tension drained away, thoughts came clear and focused. I made every important decision of my youth in these places; if not all, then most certainly the good ones.

Knowing what nature has done for me, I’m now burdened with the worry that my suburban grown children will be denied that same sanctuary I had, during their times of stress. Sure, we have lots of city parks and forest parks, but the city parks are relatively devoid of any natural landscapes for play and the forested parks are so restricted that going off the trail, picking a flower, or eating a berry is tantamount to vandalism. Neither of these places are going to provide even a fraction of the possibilities that sticks, mud, leaves, creeks, and a little freedom, provide naturally. I fear that this look-but-don’t-touch attitude is actually going to discourage them from seeking experiences in nature in the future. I can see it in the looks on their faces, we have to go hiking again mom?? But it’s so booooring. I have to say, they have a point there...

There Has to Be Something I Can Do
I was looking for hope and inspiration when I picked up this book. Instead I got a lot of what I already felt. Wild places are disappearing from city and suburban landscapes. Kids are getting fat, wired-in and antisocial. Problems like ADHD are on the rise in ridiculous curves. The book spends most of the time exploring these problems, making a case for it’s importance and sharing stories of people who have achieved a meaningful relationship with nature. I was depressed reading about the trends toward de-naturing our entire culture, such that Naturalists are almost all elderly, colleges rarely even have nature related science classes, due to lack of interest from the student body, while microbiology and technology and such are fast rising.

I kept waiting for something I could use to help my children. That part did come, in a few pages towards the end, but it was everything I was already striving to do on my own. It was then that I finally ascertained the purpose of this book. It isn't a book with creative ideas for helping parents and children bond with nature, it is meant to educate people who were unaware that something is missing, and to call them to action. We need to build public spaces and communities that are conducive to children nurturing a relationship with nature. A love that will inspire, offer panacea, respite, recreation, and spirituality. All of which would make conservation and green-living an obvious afterthought. We love it, so of course we want to preserve it. I agree, but it’s not really what I was after when I bought this book; I already have a thorough understanding of the importance of nature in our lives and would already support any moves made by our society in that direction.

Although I was a bit disappointed, this book had some truly excellent points, here are a few:

Childlife Reserves - There are so many activist creating sanctuaries for animals but what about children? Couldn't a small portion of that sensitive sand dune/stream/pond/forest be cordoned off for playing, even if it was unintentionally “destructive”?  I love this idea and was inspired to write a letter.  (I'll link to it once it's finished.)

Criminalization of Natural Play - In urban and suburban areas kids can barely step off the sidewalk without trespassing. Parents feel compelled to force kids to drop that piece of gravel lest we be accused of stealing landscaping material. Forget about climbing that really inviting low-branched tree. Same goes for any commercial spaces. Even at the city parks, I see parents pulling kids out of the trees and pointing them towards the play structures—dead metal and plastic things surrounded by shredded trees that poke through their socks. No creativity, no inspiration, no exhilaration from being up high, no thrill at the thought of a branch breaking beneath your shoes leaving you dangling by your hands... Just safe, rigid, and exceptionally boring.

Legal Bogeyman - The ‘gator were really scared of? The litigator, we are so worried about the possibility of being sued if a child injured themselves while playing on commercial or personal property that many areas are unnecessarily marked off-limits. A few well written play-at-your-own-risk laws could fix this...

Bad Guy Bogeyman - The world today isn't safe! Or is it? Statistics (in this book) show that the rates of crime to children are actually lower than when we were growing up. And when children are hurt, it’s generally perpetrated by someone they know and trust.

Biophilia - Term coined by Edward Wilson describing the innate urge to associate with other forms of life. Why we like pets and houseplants, why we react so positively to a open field or stand of trees.

No comments:

Post a Comment