Monday, April 07, 2008

From the Buffalo News

Paddy chided me not too long ago as being anti nature with his tirade about technology invading the Iditorade(sp). I am not anti-nature. I hope this article from the Buffalo News strikes a note with you as it did with me.

Charity Vogel: Children have lost touch with nature

Driving down the road on a recent 50-degree day, I spotted the little girl out of the corner of my eye.

She was playing in a small streambed, hopping from rock to rock and bending down to look at water-logged leaves. A red scarf was tied jauntily over her shoulders; her hair was blowing in the breeze. In one hand, she held a stick aloft, an Excalibur.

My first thought was, that’s exactly the way I must have looked, a lot, when I was 10.

My second thought was sadder. Seeing the girl — so oblivious to the rest of the world, so caught up in her explorations — it struck me that the scene hit home precisely because you don’t see that sort of thing too much anymore.

In other words: Spring, in Western New York, has finally arrived.

Will the 12-year-olds in our midst even notice?

Maybe not. Childhood, these days, is a largely indoor event. From the time they wake in the predawn hours before school, to the long bus rides, to the classroom and homework grinds, kids today spend most of their time within four walls. In their free hours, they hunker down with a Nintendo Wii or PlayStation or surf the Web while texting friends.

They live in a smart and media-saturated world. It’s also an airless one.

This isn’t just about exercise and imaginative play, although those are certainly important aspects of what’s missing. This is about something deeper and more fundamental. It’s about our connection with the world around us.

Think back to the last time a kid told you about encountering wildlife, or finding a really cool leaf, or their favorite tree. Hardly ever happens, right? After they leave the preschool years, many children don’t seem to spend much time thinking about the organic world.

As a result, they lack a basic familiarity with nature — the kind that comes from spending long hours outside doing not too much, but learning everything.

Try this test: Find a preteen kid and ask a few basic questions about the outdoors. See if the kid can identify a tree. Or know which way is north, just from natural clues. Quiz the kid about which way geese fly, and when.

If you get a blank stare, don’t be surprised.

“They can identify the logo for Nike, but they don’t know where maple syrup comes from,” said Tim Smith, a Cheektowaga native who now lives in Michigan and writes kids’ nature books.

Smith said that when he talks to kids about natural phenomena — the habits of animals, for example, or how to find a good fishing spot — they get so excited they crowd around him.

There’s a hunger for this kind of knowledge in young people, one that all the Wiis in the world won’t change.

Of course, some may wonder why any of this matters in the first place. Why isn’t Animal Planet as good as watching a chipmunk in your backyard? Why does it matter if a kid chooses to squat on MySpace for three hours, rather than in a fort under a tree?

Maybe the answer is this simple: One of the first lessons of being human is that there’s an entire universe out there that is not about you — it’s far bigger and more remote than that, and it can’t be contained or controlled in any sort of tidy technological package.

That’s breathtaking, scary, humbling. Realizing it makes us better humans — the kind of people who can see beyond our own borders.

If you’re one of those who thinks the world could use a little more of that kind of perspective right now, here’s a hint: It doesn’t begin indoors.


sobinator said...

This is definitely the truth. Sadly, though, this journalist's discovery is no novel understanding, but simply a marking of where society is along the continuous path of our removal from nature. Its no wonder that people don't give a shit about the environment unless it bumps them up the social ladder a few rungs. There's no escaping our alienation from nature as an aesthetic.

Paddy said...

So why don't you put your money (and your feet) where your mouth is C and come to Alaska?!