Richard Louv, recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, is a journalist and author of eight books about the connections between family, nature and community. The chairman of the Children & Nature Network, he is also honorary co-chair of the National Forum on Children and Nature. He has written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and other newspapers and magazines. He has appeared on The Early Show, Good Morning America, Today, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, and many other programs. For more information, visit www.lastchildinthewoods.com.
Leave No Da Da Inside: How Nature Helped Reconnect Me to my Daughter
I love my work. I am afforded the opportunity to promote the value of connecting people with nature. Working with so many great people to help empower a new generation to be connected with nature is a blessing and a responsibility that I take seriously. One of the things I find to be a constant struggle in my life is the amount of time I spend on the road away from my family. Over the past decade I have spent up to a week each month on the road. There is no doubt I enjoy parts of the travel — I always look forward to my jogs in Central Park in New York City or along the National Mall in Washington D.C. In order to be effective in my work, it is critical that I am out connecting with folks in person. But a lot of my work, from policy to development, requires that I spend too much time on airplanes and in hotel rooms. Because I have always had an adventurous spirit, I do still get a little buzz when I look at my boarding pass and think about where I am off to. As Mark Twain wrote, “Spirit … has fifty times the strength and staying-power of brawn and muscle.”
Even so, there is a reality to my travel that I learned last month and the disconnect it caused with my 20-month-old daughter Amelie.
Late in October, I went on my longest trip since Amelie’s birth. It was an eight-day, eight-city trip. I missed Amelie and my wife Mandy, but the reality is that as the days went by, my memories faded and Amelie’s smile became more distant. I was excited to get back to Seattle to see her. I had no idea what was in store for me.
Amelie initially lit up when she first saw me upon my return, but then quickly turned her back to me. When I asked for a kiss, which she normally gives on cue, she turned her head to me and said, “No Da Da.” The following week, I tried every trick in the book. From making her favorite foods “Pasta Nachos” (don’t ask) to offering to read to her constantly, which is her favorite activity, I was shot down at every turn. She would always go to Mandy and, when I would get close, she would say, “No Da Da.” Amelie’s treatment that week raised a lot of questions for me:
Was my own life and passion for connecting people, especially children, to nature taking a serious toll on my relationship with my own daughter?
The weekend after I returned, I decided to try to reestablish our bond. The only way I could think to do that was through connecting us in nature. Richard Louv, Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, stated in his book Last Child in the Woods, “Time in nature helps both the child and parent by building their shared sense of attachment and reducing stress.” I also know from Marti Erickson, who is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Children & Nature Network and one of the leading developmental psychologists in the country, that “The natural world seems to invite and facilitate parent-child connection and sensitive interactions.” I decided to put these statements to the test. Mandy had work to do so I took Amelie to the Seattle Sculpture Garden.
She was not happy when Mom left the car and started crying hard and for a sustained time, which is not her normal behavior. Once I got to the Sculpture Garden and tried to put her in a backpack to walk around, she refused. After some coddling, I got her up on my shoulders, and we walked up to the Garden. The Seattle Sculpture Garden is located downtown near the Space Needle. It was a bright blue day with ferries coming in to Elliot Bay and the Space Needle shining high in the sky. Amelie was still being distant as I put her down so she could explore the different structures. She didn’t seem engaged with the man-made structures and instead focused on a long hill she wanted to go down. I tried to help her down the hill but she slapped at my hand and said what I gotten accustomed to that whole week: “No Da Da.”
I stood back and watched Amelie crawl to the lip of the hill and point at the ferries and say “boat”. I could see that she wanted to go down but realized it was a little above her skill level. We must have sat for what seemed twenty minutes in total silence, the cool breeze in both of our faces. I felt the weird sensation through my body that the silence was building towards something positive between us. All of the sudden Amelie looked at me and put her hand up and smiled. Nothing was said but I could feel our energy coming back as I walked her down the hill. She started to smile more and, after we explored all the nooks and crannies of the Sculpture Garden, Amelie gave me what I had been looking for. She put her lips out and planted a kiss on me and said, “Da Da.”
I could feel myself getting a bit emotional as I walked her back to the car. Our connection, which had been lost, was back. I realized then that no meeting is as important as the smile and love your child or a loved one gives you. Nature had reconnected us. I will always thank Amelie for reminding me how important time in nature is to reconnect us to the people we love.
About the Author Martin LeBlanc is National Youth Education Director for the Sierra Club, where he oversees the organization’s youth programs and advocacy efforts relating to children and nature. He also has been instrumental in forming partnerships with military and health organizations. He was a founding board member of the Children & Nature Network and currently serves as its Vice President.
By Martin LeBlanc on December 19th, 2011
“I recall my father’s dark tanned neck, creased with lines of dust, as he tilled our garden. I ran ahead of him, pulling rocks and bones and toys from his path.” — The Nature Principle
In “Last Child in the Woods,” I focused on why children need nature. In my new book, “The Nature Principle,” I tell how the whole family – and whole communities — can become happier, healthier and smarter through more contact with the natural world. I do hope you’ll read the book to find out how, but for starters, here are 10 reasons children and adults need nature:
• The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. We have a human right to a meaningful connection to nature, and we have the responsibilities that come with that right. Few today would question the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the Internet. We should also have access to the natural world, because that connection is part of our humanity.
• Humans are hard-wired to love and need exposure to the natural world. Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savannah. Our inborn affiliation for nature may explain why we prefer to live in houses with particular views of the natural world.
• We suffer when we withdraw from nature. Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, has coined the term solastalgia. He combined the Latin word solacium (comfort — as in solace) and the Greek root – algia (pain) to form solastalgia, which he defines as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”
• Nature brings our senses alive. Scientists recently found that humans have the ability to track by scent alone. Some humans rival bats in echolocation or biosonar abilities. Military studies show that some soldiers in war zones see nuances others miss, and can spot hidden bombs; by and large these tend to be rural or inner city soldiers, who grew up more conscious of their surroundings.
• Individuals and businesses can become nature smart. Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
• Nature heals. Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalizations, less need for pain medications, and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of brick.
• Nature can reduce depression and improve psychological well-being. Researchers in Sweden have found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting feel more restored and less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories jogging in a built urban setting.
• Nature builds community bonds. Levels of neurochemicals and hormones associated with social bonding are elevated during animal-human interactions. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.
• Nature bonds families and friends. New ways are emerging to make that bond, such as family nature clubs, through which multiple families go hiking, gardening or engage in other outdoor activities together. In the U.K., families are forming “green gyms,” to bring people of all ages together to do green exercise.
• The future is at stake. The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us, but that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.
About the Author
Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”and “The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.”
By Richard Louv on July 4th, 2011