Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Avoiding Nature Deficit Disorder in kids

The Introduction 
As I watched our eight year old daughter's pigtails bobbing up and down as she casually skipped from our campsite down a grassy slope to the lake's edge to wash up before bed, I was filled with wonder at how content our children were at 12,000 feet.   Unlike any other locale, our children were able to fill their time easily, smile more, laugh more, talk more, complain less when removed from the distractions of modern life.  Only when we left our car in a parking lot and step by step put more distance between ourselves and the stuff of this world could we truly, as a family, unwind and connect.

As my gaze shifted from our bathing blondie to the soaring peaks beyond, I took in the scene around me and promised myself to never forget.  I vowed to try to bring the grounded perspective that is gained when sitting on a granite rock  back with me to the "real world".  While sitting in the warm sun, under blue skies, sipping in pure air and thinking of the days' to do list that consists purely of items needed to simply survive, life becomes simple again.  And in that simplicity, the stresses of life seem petty and ridiculous.  A new order emerges - one of priorities of connectedness with loved ones, movement, wonder.  Entertainment is complete in observing natural beauty and quietly dreaming through inspired conversation.  The mundane of cooking dinner and getting water are chores that now bring joy as they are not done in a rushed and hurried after thought to a busy day, but that are part of the days rhythm. 

It was this moment that birthed the idea to write this book.  For the past 11 years, as our family pass folks on the trail, we have been asked, "How do you get your kids out here?" from truly astonished fellow adult hikers.  This book is inspired and birthed from that singular question.  There was a time in recent history when kids ran more free, feeling real soil at their feet and the wind swirl on their face on a dusty mountain trail.  But every time we hear this question we wonder if we are becoming an indoor people, addicted to our computer monitors while we miss the explosive firework display as the sun dances across the eastern sky.  This question comes to us with genuine perplexity and points to a phenomenon, Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, has named "nature deficit disorder" which he defines as "...the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses."

This memoir takes place, in it's majority, on the John Muir Trail.  John Muir has the honor of having what many considered the most beautiful scenic trail in the country named after him. It is because he has done more to preserve our wilderness then any other American.  His wanderings through the wilderness and eloquent writings inspired President Roosevelt to establish 148 million acres of national forest, five national parks, and twenty-three national monuments.  Muir's writings spoke of nature as a powerful aid in human health and wholeness for the weary, stressed, and overworked city dweller. 

Living between the years of the Civil War and the Great Depression, Stephen T. Mather, first director of the National Park System, suffered from emotional breakdowns marked by depression and withdrawal.  Without drugs to help him cope, he found that spending time, often alone, in the wilderness was his best remedy.  When that was not possible, his wife surrounded him in his recovery room with pictures of Yosemite.  After months of reclusion, he would emerge, fervently focused on lobbying Congress, the press, businesspeople, and just about everyone in America.  His persuasive energetic whirlwind convinced congress to establish The Grand Canyon National Park in 1919.  

In the spirit of John Muir and Stephen T. Mather, we too have found the power of immersion in nature to be able to refocus us, calm our spirits, and bond our family together in ways that nothing else can. 

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