It’s an apt place to do this thinking given we (our family) are snug in a cabin in the woods of the Teton Mountain ranges in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 10,000 ft about sea level and surrounded by swirling snow, naked aspens, snow covered spruces, rolling rivers and the most incredible feast of nature.
Each morning the girls and I wake up to see what snow has brought us through the night. The irascible moose and her baby may have returned to our cabin for some relief from the snow or to eat the succulent green water grasses from the Fish Creek riverbed nearby. There is something about an irascible creature that I am drawn to. I·ras·ci·ble – unpredictable, prone to outbursts of temper; easily angered; known to charge if their calves are under threat. As a mama I appreciate some of these qualities and am known to charge too if my girls are under threat.
During the day the girls and I have taken to watching the elk on their migration routes; the mule deer forage for food anywhere they can find it; coyotes lingering on the margins of the forests; and the bald eagles flying overhead as the first field mice start to emerge from their burrows as the long winter ice starts to thaw. The girls build ice caves, make snow angels in the powder, and collect river rocks to paint. We drink lots of herbs in front of the fire to keep warm, and at nights when everything is silent – I write and watch the snow fall.
Yes… there is no doubt that this environment can also be extreme – dry cracked lips and stringy hair, muddy and cold and sometimes impractical – but its an environment that’s easy to think about nature in, because it becomes you; engulfs you. John Muir’s quote is apt here: ‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, (s)he finds it attached to the rest of the world’.
So about kids and nature…
For years I have been speaking to groups about the importance of nutrition (raw and nutrient rich foods for kids and how to make these part of their everyday diets), adequate sleep, co-sleeping, touch, reducing (eliminating) toxic exposure to everyday consumer products. But importantly – kids also need contact with nature! The missing link (and heart) of my presentations.
There is a great book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods. He writes about reducing what he calls the ‘nature-deficient disorder’ in children of the 21st century. Where more kids than ever before are disconnected from nature – have reduced amounts of leisure time; spend more time in front of the TV and computer; growing obesity rates, sedentary lifestyles and where nature activities are being criminalized. Researcher Jane Clark also calls these children ‘containerized children’ – they spend more time in car seats, high chairs, and even baby seats for watching TV. And when they do go outside they are often placed in containers – strollers.
Louv talks about the time he spends with teenagers: ‘I am reminded that while they are aware of the global threats to the environment – their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. It seems nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear’.
His primary argument (and core of his book) is to reduce the ‘nature deficit disorder’. Why? Because it is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. Exposure to nature reduces diseases, improves cognitive abilities and resistance to stresses.
I would also add that the health of the earth depends upon it as well. How young people relate or connect with nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the conditions of our cities, our homes, or parks and the conditions of our animals, plants and ecosystems.
Author Bill McKibben has called this time as ‘the end of nature’. But a mama of two small girls and connected to a community of conscious parents, I am far less pessimistic. I watch how children connect with nature with such ease if we give them the space to do so. It’s like breathing to them.
Svetla Stoikova, a clinical psychologist at Alexandrovska University Hospital in Bulgaria notes in her research, ‘…If you place a bunch of flowers and a telephone in front of a 8-month-old baby, she reaches for the flowers. If you give a 4-year-old girl the choice between sand and stones, or dough with milk to cook a meal for her doll with, he will choose the former. If you offer a 14-year-old teenager a hike to a mountain peak or to let her chat on the computer, they will choose the mountain’.
Of course they will. We, as parents, have a brief opportunity to pass onto our children this earth.
* Photos of our cabin in the woods and hooked on nature adventures