August 04, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

From Kristof:
While backpacking in Mount Hood, Ore., with my 11-year-old daughter, I kept thinking of something tragic: So few kids these days know what happens when you lick a big yellow banana slug.

We were recuperating in a (banana slug-infested) wilderness from a surfeit of civilization. On our second day on the Pacific Crest Trail, we were exhausted after nearly 20 miles of hiking, our feet ached, and ravenous mosquitoes were persecuting us. Dusk was falling, but no formal campsite was within miles.

So we set out a groundsheet and our sleeping bags on the soft grass of a ridge, so that the winds would blow the mosquitoes away.

We debated whether to put up our light tarp to protect us from rain. “No need,” I advised my daughter patronizingly. “There’s zero chance it’ll rain. And it’ll be more fun to be able to look up at shooting stars.”

It was, until we awoke at 4 a.m. to a freezing drizzle.

The rain not only punctured the doctrine of Paternal Infallibility but also offered one of nature’s dazzlingly important lessons in perspective, reminding us that we’re just tenants — and ones without much sway.

Such time in the wilderness is part of our family’s summer ritual, a time to hit the “reset” switch and escape deadlines and BlackBerrys. We spend the time fretting instead about blisters, river crossings and rain, and the experiences offer us lessons on inner peace and life’s meaning — cheap therapy, without the couch.

All this comes to mind because for most of us in the industrialized world, nature is a rarer and rarer part of our lives. Children for a thousand generations grew up exploring fields, itching with poison oak and discovering the hard way what a wasp nest looks like. That’s no longer true.

Paul, a fourth-grader in San Diego, put it this way: “I like to play indoors better, ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” Paul was quoted in a book by Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, that argued that baby boomers “may constitute the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water.”


Anonymous said...

what DOES happens when you lick a big yellow banana slug? or do I have to go to the link and read the article?

TS said...

'Spose I can quote the end of the article:

"Oh, and the slug? Time was, most kids knew that if you licked the underside of a banana slug, your tongue went numb. Better that than have them numb their senses staying cooped up inside."