Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fashion and Experience

Robert Michael Pyle, one of the pioneers of the children and Nature issue penned an essay in his book The Thunder Tree called The Extinction of Experience. It is this essay that has served as a foundation for a lot of the thinking going on about children not being connected with nature.

More recently, Bob wrote an article in Defenders Magazine a while back that explained the roots of our ecological crisis, including the role of extinction of experience.
I believe that one of the greatest causes of the ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature in which many people live. We lack a widespread sense of intimacy with the living world. Natural history has never been more popular in some ways, yet few people organize their lives around nature, or even allow it to affect them profoundly. Our depth of contact is too often wanting. Two distinctive birds, by the ways in which they fish, furnish a model for what I mean.

Brown pelicans fish by slamming directly into the sea, great bills agape, making sure of solid contact with the resource they seek. Black skimmers, graceful ternlike birds with longer lower mandibles than upper, fly over the surface with just the lower halves of their bills in the water. They catch fish too, but avoid bodily immersion by merely skimming the surface.

In my view, most people who consider themselves nature lovers behave more like skimmers than pelicans. They buy the right outfits at L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer, carry field guides and take walks on nature trails, reading all the interpretive signs. They watch the nature programs on television, shop at the Nature Company and pay their dues to the National Wildlife Federation or the National Audubon Society. These activities are admirable, but they do not ensure truly intimate contact with nature. Many such "naturalists" merely skim, reaping a shallow reward. Yet the great majority of the people associate with nature even less.

As usual, Bob is right, and maybe we're into nature now without getting muddy.

A good example from our consumer culture is The North Face's woman's Denali Jacket. I'd bet four out of ten 14 year old girls wear one all winter long, to school and the mall.

A friend of mine, an excellent climber, once wore a $4.99 windbreaker out to the crag just to stick it to the lycra clad rock jocks wearing the newest crag fashions, who spent more time posing than climbing. On the other hand, at least those folks were out at the crags. The Outdoor Industry, including The North Face, is doing everything they can to get people into outdoor sports, and they are committed to connecting kids to nature, as their future business depends on it. Let's hope they have the ideas and the vision to help reverse this extinction of experience. In the short term though, is fashion, rather than getting outdoors, keeping these companies afloat?

I think in some cases, the answer is yes.

Bob Pyle's article is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Danger, Will Robinson

The Dangerous Book for Boys is making quite a splash in the media right now, and I think looking at the fundamental premise of the book it does help in our task of getting kids back outside. On Amazon it is getting close to a five star rating, with some comments suggesting that the facts are sometimes wrong. I'll report more after I read it. In the meantime, here's a piece on the book by Karen Heller published in the Philly Enquirer.
The Dangerous attraction is its stealth assault on the great indoors favored by young Americans tube-tied to one screen or another. Children ages 8 to 18 spend 6 1/2 hours daily with their electronica, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I will comment on the premise of danger and boys. I spent a large amount of my teenage years along with my twenties, hanging out at crags in the northeast, climbing every chance I could. I was lucky that my Mother asked very few questions about these activities, and seemed to trust that I was always safe and used good judgement. For the most part we were safe, and built good judgement through experience. One of the crags we would frequent is called the Shawangunks or Gunks. This band of cliffs stretches north south about an hour or so north of NYC, and has been a mecca for climbers since Fritz Wiessner saw the cliffs shining in the sun after a thunderstorm when he was climbing on cliffs along the Hudson River. Here's a shot of one of the classic climbs, Shockley's Ceiling (photo from

When we did this route I remember the second pitch more than the last. The top of the first pitch is a small comfortable ledge but the second pitch starts out to the right up through steep overlaps, which looks crazy from the belay ledge (photo by Mike Day).

Of course, its only 5.6, so huge holds appear from just out of sight. I wonder if we had taken photos that day and I had shown my Mom this shot with me in it, if she would have continued to encourage me to get outside as much as I did. Probably best that I did not ever show her many of my climbing pictures...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Landscape and Health

Seems that the occurrence of Attention Deficits continues to grow. According to this article in Ladies Home Journal, four million kids are currently diagnosed.

Studies show that there are biological reasons behind these conditions, but environmental factors can have an impact.
But even if the data strongly suggest a biological origin to ADHD, says William E. Pelham Jr., PhD, director of the Center for Children and Families at the State University of New York at Buffalo, there is little doubt that environmental factors can nudge a latent, largely benign tendency into a full-blown disorder requiring medication. Several trends in American life have converged to whip up this perfect storm.

Francis Kuo, and Andrea Faber-Taylor, researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have completed a study in 1994 that determined getting kids outdoors can reduce the symptoms and help kids cope with ADHD. Kuo is a leading researcher today in this field. She says getting kids outside does not mean you have to go to the wilderness. Urban parks and natural spaces can be just as effective.
It didn't take a pristine landscape to prompt the improvement. No need to head for a remote rainforest; just get outside and around greenery after school and on weekends, wherever you are, say the researchers.

Kuo is the Director of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's
Landscape and Human Health Laboratory where her current research looks at the capacity to learn in green spaces.

Doings in Connecticut-The Great Park Pursuit

I grew up in Connecticut next to Stratton Brook State Park. I was in that park all of the time, exploring, fishing, and even riding pre mountain bike "clunker" bikes on the many trails (in the early 70s). It was a significant place for me when I was a kid, as for my Mom, who would ride her bike 15 miles over Talcott Mountain from Hartford to go swimming there (back in the 1930s).

Connecticut has become a leader in the Children and Nature movement, thanks to the leadership of CT DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy.

We have been fortunate enough at the NCTC to host Commissioner McCarthy a couple of times in the past year. Her talks are energetic and given with a lot of passion. She means business and her programs havedone what we are striving for--they connect kids and families with nature.

The Great Park Pursuit, a program she and her staff have developed in Connecticut is a great one, and is serving to get kids and their families out into Connecticut's fine state parks. Stratton Brook Park was included in the program.

You can learn more about what they are doing in Connecticut here .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday News

Rich Louv recently spoke at the Outdoor Writers of America Annual meeting, held this year in Roanake, VA. His remarks engaged the audience, and a string of good press pieces have resulted. This article, from the San Francisco Chronicle, frames the issue well.

In far-ranging comments, Louv described how a child's outdoor adventures -- or lack of them -- can affect his or her development. He said that a promising future can still be shaped:

-- Youth health: "The increase in diabetes and heart disease is because kids are growing up not moving. When you look at discussions of child obesity, you never see nature mentioned. They (parents) send them to the gym, but you look at adults, and gyms are not doing the job that well for them either. The greatest increase in child obesity in history happened in the same two decades as the greatest increase in organized sports in history."

-- Child development: "How does nature shape child development? Take attention deficit disorder. Kids exposed to just a little bit of nature get better. The attention span seems to lengthen. Could it be that the huge increase in kids on anti-depressants is because we took away the calming effect of natural experience?"

-- The education bounce: "Schools with kids with nature testing do better across the board, 27 percent better in science testing, than a kid in a cubicle. If we really care about education reform in United States, we would have a campaign called 'No Child Left Inside.' "

At the meetings last week of the National Forum on Children and Nature, Rich Louv noted that 10,000 copies of his book were sold last month. Like Carson in the sixties, Louv is awakening the American public to this important issue, again Health is the primary focus with the environment playing a supporting role.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Movement

There have been a string of op-eds and editorials about the Children and Nature issue for some time now. The Cincinnati Enquirer posted an op-ed by Cincinnati Nature Center director Bill Hopple.
With the book and speaking engagements all across the country, Louv has triggered a national movement to reconnect children and nature. Unlike the environmental movement of the 1960s, there has been no opposition to his efforts.

Some people engaged in this issue are talking about the need for more research, solid metrics to strive for, and advising caution as we move forward. Others are saying this is a movement and we need to "ready fire, aim."
You can read the editorial here.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Recent Events and Press

For a couple of years now, Richard Louv has been traveling around the country speaking to people about what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder. The purpose of this blog is to provide news about this issue along with resources that interested folks can use to get involved in the issue.

I spent the last couple of days with Rich at the opening meetings of The Conservation Fund's National Forum on Children and Nature. This is a dynamic and diverse group of folks from a cross section of society who are interested in doing something about this issue, the vision being let's reconnect every kid to nature. Here's some recent background pieces, including this front page Washington Post article from earlier this week. This article has been picked up by papers across the country.

The great website New West also covers Rich's talk at last weekend's Outdoor Writers Association in Roanoke.
“Nowadays,” Louv laments, “kids know more about the Amazon rainforest than they do about the woods behind their house.”

Connecticut has been a leader in this issue as well with its No Child Left Inside Campaign. The Hartford Courant recently gave editorial space to the issue.

Nau is a new outdoor clothing retailer with a cool website and a cooler business plan that includes giving one percent of revenue to environmental causes. Their blog, The Thought Kitchen had a recent thread on keeping the wild in wilderness. I posted a comment on this, getting the Children and Nature theme going, and asking if we need to accomplish the reconnect within the famework of the new generations and their technology. Personally, I prefer to shun electronics in the wild (except for the digital camera), and others on this blog feel the same, but can we really be effective if we rely on our paradigm?