Catching Lizards & Nature-Deficit Disorder

As AARP’s Sustainability Manager, Pam Evans has led the effort to incorporate environmentally responsible practices into AARP’s internal business operations. She’s passionate about educating members on the importance of responsible use of resources, and the direct connection between the declining health of the environment and the health of our, and future, generations.

I’m reading the most marvelous book, ‘The Nature Principle’ by Richard Louv. Louv, a child advocacy expert, believes that “the future will belong to the nature-smart-those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” Great stuff. Written after the tremendous success of his groundbreaking book, ‘Last Child in the Woods’, about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation-he calls it nature-deficit-to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. The good news is he offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond – both in children, and in ourselves!

Now back to catching lizards with a reed snare. Like many of you, I remember a childhood where we were pushed out the door to play and told to come back when the streetlights came on or we heard dad yelling from down the street that dinner was ready, whichever came first! I won’t wax nostalgic about simpler, safer times – that’s not my point. But when was the last time you saw kids just playing outside, team sports excluded?

My kids are all grown now but they still talk about the adventures they had at the stream down the hill from us where a lovely young mother taught them, along with her own little ones, how to fasten a reed loop snare to catch lizards, watch them in the shoe box, and then let them go. Or when they caught tadpoles in the same stream and brought them home to their aquarium and watch them turn into frogs (not mom’s favorite!). Or, after we moved to the DC area, racing their friends on their bikes in the “Haycock Woods” over the bumpy trails between the elementary and middle schools. I felt especially blessed the day I was invited to get on my bike so they could show me their special trails.

Now, 10 years later, the “Haycock Woods” has been turned into townhomes, the stream has been walled off as denser housing built up around it, and the bikes have been donated to charity. But the memories live on forever. I believe they helped my children develop a wider sense of responsibility for the natural world, and a deeper sense of connection to it. I worry my grandchildren will have to work much harder for those connections.

Need a nudge to get you out in nature with your grandchild? You can find some great ideas for activities at a new website, Green Grandparents Guide.

The “Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder” Contest, sponsored by the US EPA, Generations United, the Dance Exchange, Rachel Carson Council, Inc., and the National Center for Creative Aging sponsor a poetry, essay, photo and dance contest. Entries must be from a team of two or more persons-a young person and an older person. Deadline for entries is June 1, 2012.

Happy lizard hunting!