Summer reading has begun. Already one week into summer vacation (thank you, Lord!), I have finished my first book, and it has already set in motion both hopes for the summer and ideas to tinker with for next school year. Thanks to our noble Department Chair, as an English Department we are engaging in a summer book club based on a work of our choosing from a selected list. I chose Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, a book I’ve always wanted to read ever since I shared a conversation about it with Clark, my hall-mate and fellow English colleague a number of years ago. Finally, the time came to dig in.
While the beginning chapters of this book intrigued and held me more than the later ones, I found myself gripped by the book’s premise: WE NEED NATURE. It is so apparent that in our fast-paced, plugged-in, overly-scheduled lives, we find little time to remember that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves. Louv resurrects the freedom, fantasy, privacy, and spirituality found in nature, and lovingly implores that we do something about our reconnection with it – both for us and for our children.
There were numerous ideas, moments, and excerpts that sang to me, and I want to share with you a few of them so that you can in turn read and digest this gem for yourself:
1. “Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” TV is the most “effective thief of time.” We have this perceived “time poverty” in our lives, but are we in part doing it to ourselves with our choices?
2. We need UNSTRUCTURED (imaginative, exploratory) PLAY. What a disconcerting irony that the current epidemic of childhood obesity has coincided with a dramatic increase in children’s organized (over-scheduled? over-organized?) sports. Hmm…
3. “Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.”
4. Nature presents us with something so much greater than we are; it offers an environment where we can easily contemplate both infinity and eternity. No, there’s not “an App for that”; such thinking requires solitude, quiet, and depth.
5. Currently, our lives may be more productive (although more productive for what? What IS success really?), but less inventive.
6. The narrow idea of “silicon faith” exists – that all things “high tech” are our salvation. While computers are not the problem, perhaps our over-dependence on them is.
7. We cannot be owned by fear. I loved this quote that Louv cited from Karyl T. O’Brien, the associate executive director of the regional Girls Scouts Council in San Diego: “when I was a kid, you fell down, you got up, so what; you learned to deal with consequences. I broke this arm twice.”
8. The word “boredom” did not exist until the 19th century (wow!). There is a difference between a “constructively bored mind” and a “negatively numbed mind.”
9. The spiritual necessity of nature involves living life in “radical amazement” — how refreshing! how invigorating! how life-giving! how grace-filled! how purposeful!
10. Because school should not be as Louv says, “a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world,” here are some ideas to implement this summer and next school year:
-TV turn-off challenge for school community, purposefully structuring more unstructured time, keeping a “wonder bowl” – filling pockets with natural wonders found on walks, keeping a nature journal, reading outside more, and integrating what we are reading/writing in the classroom with our magnificent campus.
I encourage you to pick up this book, make notes, and remember why nature matters to our lives — to our souls. I bet a handful of memories and scenes from childhood alone can justify why.
It seems most appropriate that as I conclude Louv’s work, I prepare to abandon the city and travel to the lush unknown of Valparaiso, Indiana with my mama to visit one of my dearest friends from childhood on her parents’ farm. I have no doubt that there, we will turn off everything, reconnect with our old selves, get dirty, and embrace the “loose parts” of unstructured play. Nature, here we come…