A few months ago, my dad built a nice patio in our front yard. It is outside and only 15 feet from the street, but trees offer privacy. There are shaded parts and sunny parts and there are always birds chirping and a nice breeze. When the sun was out, I would do all of my homework sitting there, and it was much more enjoyable than sitting inside.
I found a very interesting expose in the New York Times, on kids spending time outdoors. It featured an editorial by Nicholas Kristof, an article about kindergartners that spend three hours a day in the forest, and a chance for students to talk about what they think of nature.
Kristof mentions a book called Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. Louv’s thesis is that the baby boomers are most likley that last generation that will share an intimate connection with the land and water. What this means, is that our generation will be far less connected (face it we are) and further generations will be even less so. It’s almost inevitiable. I remember reading a book by Isaac Asimov, a reknowned science fiction writer, in which cities became enclosed metropolitan areas, completely distinct from nature. I think that is a entirely possible, however disgusting it may be. Granted, it will take hundreds of years to get there. But still, it could.
The most interesting thing I saw was something that Louv calls ‘nature defecit disorder.’ Essentially, not being in nature is linked to depression, obesity and ADD. It makes sense. There is an overwhelming sense of calm and serenity you can gain from reflecting in nature. At the same time, it encourages young kids to be active. When I was young, my friends and I didn’t need video games to keep us busy. Our imaginations took us everywhere in parks and backyards. And this activity fights obesity.
I think that a big problem is that nature often comes into conflict with efficiecy. If you put computer engineers on laptops on a park bench in Central park to work, they would not get work done. That is, unless they were already so lost to the world. And these days, its all about cramming as much into your day as you can. That leaves no room for some time for fun or relaxation in nature. Too many people would rather run on a treadmill than go run at a county park. Too many people would rather hurry home than stop and smell the roses.
I have been trying to understand how this relates to our heightened awareness of environmental problems and the trend to going green. It seems hypocritical to drive a prius and use cloth bags at the grocery store, but not spend time outdoors. If we are trying to save the world for later generations, why not enjoy it for ourselves in the meantime?
While it may not be the most productive thing to sit and watch a sunset from a hilltop, or the tide come in on the beach, it is certainly worth the time. Nature, like friendship and family, goes beyond having a monetary value and for that reason we should treasure and cherish it more than we do. It deserves our love, respect and attention.