When was the last time you took the time to really look at the bark on a cottonwood tree or look up at the clear, wintery, night sky? In the Park Service we talk a lot about Nature Deficit Disorder in children as discussed in Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods.”
The main idea of this book is that children have become disconnected with nature. The causes are various, most having to do with fears related to letting children explore on their own and electronic distractions. I accept both of these causes and realize they are not going to change. The National Park Service also understands this and is trying to develop safe and innovative ways to connect children with nature. But I think we are forgetting a very important group of people, the adults.
Recently, I went for a walk around the pond behind the visitor center and was thinking about this topic. I stopped to enjoy the afternoon light wash over the cattails. I reached for one of the fluffy stocks and squeezed it, expecting it to explode the cottony seeds all over me, but it didn’t. I stood and thought about it for a while and decided they must be frozen to the stalk. I continued to walk and realized that it has been years since I had stopped to enjoy the cattails. Why? My excuse is I am busy. I work for the National Park Service and I don’t even take the time at lunch to enjoy the nature in my own back yard. How are we supposed to connect children to nature when we, the adults, have become equally disconnected?
We are all busy and have distractions, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to forget about nature. If anything, it should send us back to nature.
“Our public lands and national parks are places of restoration, where an evolutionary memory reminds us what we have forgotten,” author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams explains. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. In honor of that important anniversary, I challenge you to reconnect with nature. Plan a hike with friends. Take a walk at lunch. Explore the bark on a cottonwood tree. Listen for the first meadowlark song in spring. Enjoy the silence on the trail.
There are nine free admission days to our national parks. Make a plan to visit one. We live in an amazing area and have too many outdoor resources to miss. Take your family and go enjoy them. In 2014 let’s all make a commitment to reconnect with nature.
By Christy Fleming