Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Conversation with Richard Louv

In October, I had the unique opportunity to hear Richard Louv, speak to the Texas Children in Nature Network in Austin, Texas.  Rich is the co-founder of the Children and Nature Network (C&NN), an international organization that is dedicated to connecting children and families to nature, and the author of two bestselling books, Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle.   

Rich's work inspired me to get more involved in this movement as well as to focus my writing agenda on children in nature.While listening to him engage with the audience, I took copious notes, and wrote an article for the Dallas Fort Worth Children in Nature Network Newsletter.  Excerpts from the article are below.

How has the attitude about Children in Nature changed in the past decade since you first wrote Last Child in the Woods?

“In the beginning, a lot of professionals were out there working on this, but the public and the academic world ignored the issue.  In terms of a public discussion it wasn’t on the stove.  Now, because of people in this room, it’s on the front burner.”  

He shared how the current and past two Secretaries of the Interiors have promoted this issue, and that there has been some movement in regards to policy issues. 

But, “the most important change is the grass roots efforts—we’ve exploded.” The media has also not let go of the idea of connecting children and families to nature. “There are as many Google hits today as when the book first came out,” he shared.  

Rich co-founded the Children and Nature Network to “continue to tell the story and keep it in the public eye.” And even though the efforts are working, “we must never stop talking about the issue; otherwise, it will be moved back off the stove.”

How can we get more students from low income areas connected with nature?

First off, Rich said, “Don’t lump all urban kids into the same group” as they all have different needs and interests.  He also recommended that we not forget about the suburban kids too, joking about how hard it can be to get approval from home owner’s associations just to put up basketball hoops in the driveway.  His recommendation was to “get the kids and put them on busses to camps and outdoor centers” and to establish scholarships so students from lower incomes can attend outdoor, nature-based programs. 

He shared a story about a high school student who lived in an urban neighborhood that was plagued with gunfire; however, this student was absolutely terrified during his field trip to a nature center.  When asked why, the teenager said, “There are only four or five noises in my neighborhood, and I know what they mean.  Here there are hundreds of noises and I don’t know what any of them mean.”  But by the end of the field trip, “this teenager was jumping over creeks like he was an eight year old.”   It doesn’t take long to get them connected once we get them there.

What do you think the role is of technology in nature?

The Children and Nature Network just posted a blog, ‘High Tech, High Nature’ about this issue. “Technology is not the enemy, but the dominance of technology is. … The problem is the out-of-balance [use of technology]. The more high tech our lives become, the more nature we need.”

Rich shared that he is a big fan of geocaching, digital cameras, and using technology to engage the public in citizen science programs.  “Tech happens,” he laughed. “Think about it, a fishing rod, a tent, and a compass are technologies. Technology is not new, but what is new is the immersion, which dulls our senses.”

If you were to start over again with C&NN, what would you do differently?

“We are now in a stage where we are thinking more systematically, and I would have started earlier getting organizations, like churches, engaged to ramp up promotion of nature clubs.  Same with the medical profession promoting park prescriptions.”

He also laughed, saying that he would “personally know a lot more rich people.”  While he doesn’t believe in big overhead, sharing that C&NN doesn’t have a physical office and that he is a full-time volunteer for the organization. “Without money,” he said, “the doors will shut” making it a lot more difficult to promote our message. 

What are the coolest ideas you’ve heard of to connect children to nature?

“Family nature clubs, Finland’s education program [where students alternate their time all day, spending 45 minutes inside and then 15 minutes outside], and school gardens.”  He also talked about the Natural Teachers program, indicating that many teachers who want to take their students outside feel isolated, and through this program they are no longer alone. 

Recently, Rich sat down with Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Interior to discuss moving forward with the Conservation Core. (Click here to see a video of that conversation.)

During this conversation he asked her the question, “Who is going to replace the baby boomers who are retiring from conservation and environmental careers? Kids who have never been outside?” 

He urged her to broaden the definition of “green jobs” to include jobs that connect people to nature.  Rich said that he would love to see a career guide to connecting people to Nature, in which we could promote positions such as biophilic architects, nature-based therapy, and  “lots of possible jobs that don’t exist yet, but could.” 

He continued that we could create and promote careers that produce not just a sustainable city, but a “nature-rich city.”

What do you think about environmental justice?

“Most people define it as the right to not have toxins dumped in your area, but we need to go beyond that definition—to the right to the benefits of nature: The right to your own health, creativity, cognitive improvement, and physical health. …Kids have a human right to a connection to nature, and until we see it as a human right, then it will always be seen as [just] a nice thing to have.”

What final message do you have for us?
 “In this field, it is easy to burn out and despair, and we need to take good care of each other. … That is one of our tasks, to take care of one another.  This is happy work, and it’s a happy cause. So take care of each other and of yourself.”
We need to “conserve the conservationist,” and “come together to rejuvenate and celebrate.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"You'll get hemorrhoids"

     I despised my clothes when I was a child.  While all the other kids in my class wore cool ripped jeans, neon stripes, Jams, and parachute pants, I was forced to wear pretty corduroy jumpers, plaid kilts, and monogrammed sweaters.  I was a target: the dorky kid with the weird clothes.  But, did I complain to my Mom about her purchasing choices?   Nope!  I just thought it was my lot in life.  I wore what she gave me, never sharing my misery.  

     I can’t fault my mom. She didn’t know.  As a substitute teacher at my schools, she fraternized with all my teachers, only hearing how adorable I looked in my Animal Cracker tailored outfits with matching ribbons in my hair. In high school I finally mustered the courage to tell her the truth, and she was mortified to hear about my experiences and bewildered that I never confessed my feelings.
Thirty plus years later, I am now the mom buying clothes for my little girl.  But, unlike me, my daughter has no problem telling me exactly what she thinks about my purchasing choices for her.  Here's a great example from this week.

     “Today is picture day at school, Madeleine Stone.  I laid out your new dress on your bed.” A few minutes later, she walked into my bathroom wearing the dress along with the most despicable face.  Her lips were puckered together, as if she had just sucked on a lemon.  The scowl spread across her eyes was augmented by her tightly crossed arms in front of her body and the guttural “uhhhh!” of disgust she uttered from her vocal chords.      

     “I don’t like it!” she said.
     “Oh, you look adorable,” I responded.  “Just wait until you see it with the matching beret.”
     “No!” she said stomping her foot and shaking her head in disgust.

     Okay, I thought. Remember how you felt wearing something you hated to school? Don’t do this to your daughter. ..But, she’s out of her mind…This dress oozes with style. …not to mention I paid an arm and a leg for it.

     As complacent of a child as I was, my daughter is equally obstinate.  When she doesn’t like something, you know it, it’s almost impossible to change her mind.  I’ll talk her into it, I thought, she’s only four.   And that’s when I started selling my pitch!

     “When I showed it to you the other day, Squirt, you said you loved it.”

     “Not anymore. It’s got black in it, and I don’t’ like black.”
     “But look at this adorable beret”

     “I want to wear a barrette, not a beret”
     “Barrette, beret; they’re almost the same. “

     “No, they’re not.”

     I ran to her room to get her globe.  “Look here, Squirt.” Pointing to Europe, “This beret came all the way from France.  It traveled across the Atlantic Ocean just so you could wear it.” Putting my right index finger on France and my left index finger on Texas, “It traveled so far.  How cool is that…to get to wear something from so far away?” 
     Just a little white lie, I thought. She was starting to cave, I could see the curiosity building up in her eyes.
      Dang, I thought, I almost had her.  

     It was time to bring out the big guns. “Madeleine Stone, you told me that you liked it, and that’s why I pulled the tags off.  This dress and beret were not cheap.  And if you’re not going to wear it, then you owe me some money.”

      “How much?”
      “It will cost you your allowance for an entire year.” (She gets $1 a week for spending.)

      Snap, I got her!

      “Fine. I’ll wear it, but only once.”
      “Three times,” I bartered.
      “Two times,” she countered.
      “Two times plus when you go and see Santa.” Tricky tricky.
      “I’m not wearing this for Santa Clause. He’d hate it too.”  
      “Okay, then three times, but you don’t have to wear it when you see Santa.”
      “Alright, then! Now, go get in the car.”

      But she wasn’t happy about it. Wearing her Probably-Not-From-France beret and dress, she mumbled and grumbled all the way to school.
      “What did you say, Squirt?” I asked, eyeing her in my rear view mirror.
      “I said I’m going to sit on the toilet all day so nobody sees me.”
      “Well, then you’ll get hemorrhoids.” Did I really just say that to my four-year old?
      “Whatsa Hemoroy?”
      “Something you don’t want.”
      “Why not?”“Cuz they hurt.”
      “Your bottom.”

      Oh, boy.  Time to change the subject. 
      “Will you please smile for your pictures, today?”
      “I’ll try, but it’ll be hard wearing this dress.” 
      “That’s all I ask, Squirt, just try.”

     We bantered on and on all the way to school.  Luckily, she was so hyper-focused on the outfit that she forgot all about the hemorrhoids.  I pulled into the school’s driveway, but she refused to get out of the car. Oh, what have I done? 
      Her teacher walked up to my car, opened the door, and exclaimed, “Well, don’t you look beautiful in your new dress, Madeleine Stone.” Madeleine Stone scrunched up her face in disagreement, but took her teacher’s hand and exited the vehicle.
      “Love ya, Squirt” I hollered from my lowered passenger window, but she kept walking.  My heart ached. All this over a stupid dress.
      Before closing the classroom door behind her, Madeleine Stone’s teacher turned around to say, “Great outfit, Amanda, I love it!”  Of course you do, so did my teachers. …Oh, my poor baby—never again! 

[Fast forward to the end of the day] 

    “Okay, Squirt, you can take off that dress now,” I informed Madeleine Stone as we walked into the house.
    “I don’t want to!”
    “What? Why not?”
    “Cuz I like it.”
    “Since when?”
    “Since now.  It looks like a bee costume. Can I wear it for Halloween?” With that she buzzed around the room, happy as a bumble bee in a flower patch.  

    Are you kidding me?

     So, there it is: a tale of two daughters. One daughter, quietly tenacious, while the other boisterously fickle. I wasted precious hours worrying about the emotional trauma I had inflicted on my daughter, projecting my past onto her, when, all the while, she was buzzing around like a busy bee wearing her new favorite dress.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Apple, we have a problem....It's you.

Phantom Vibration Syndrome? What is that? I thought.  According to Dr. Larry Rosen, a guest on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, phantom vibration is a recent phenomenon associated with an individual believing her phone is vibrating when, in reality, it is not. The confused soul reaches into her purse to find that she had been deceived—not by her phone; rather, by her mind. Sound familiar?

Well, it sure did to me.  I experience phantom vibrations all the time.  Evidently, I’m not alone because it happens so often to so many people that legitimate research is being conducted on the occurrence.   As I listened to the program, I began to worry.  Dr. Rosen compared it to obsessive behavioral disorders, “How is constantly picking up your phone any different than washing your hands over and over again?” he asked.  (I’m paraphrasing here.) 
Me? Obsessive compulsive?  No way! … Well, Hmmmmm.

Dr. Rosen really got me thinking about my own habits, could I be addicted to my smart phone?  I decided to try a little experiment of my own. 

1.       How often do I think about using my smart phone?
2.       How do I feel physically and mentally when I reach for my phone?

Every time I thought about picking up my phone or actually did pick up my phone, I marked it on a sheet of paper and then wrote down how I felt at that moment.   Tracking occurred for one day, beginning as soon as i woke up and ending at 6:30pm when my husband, Matt, caught me in the act. We were sitting in the kitchen talking about our day when I interrupted his story.

“Damn,” I said, and got up from the table to get my notebook out of my purse.  Matt watched me curiously as I made a mark on a sheet of paper and wrote down a few notes.  When I returned to the table, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I thought about my phone again.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. That’s when I told him about my experiment.
“Well, how many times have you reached for your phone today?” he questioned.

“I don’t know. I haven’t done the math yet.”

“Go get it, and let’s find out,” he encouraged, laughing.

Adding up all the little check marks I quickly realized, Apple, we have a problem…and it’s you. I had reached for my iPhone sixty-seven times that day. No wonder I can't get anything done! I told Matt the figure, and his eyes widened with shock. 

“Do you think that’s a lot?” I asked.

“Yea, Babe, that’s a lot.  You use your phone more than I do, and I use mine for work.”

I reviewed my observations about how I felt at the moment I wanted to use my phone, and most of the comments indicated signs of anxiety. But the following notation cleared away any doubt I had about my predicament, “I looked at my hand, and saw that I was holding my phone, not knowing how it got there.”  

While I’m no psychologist, I have enough lay-person training to say that I have a problem.  Obviously I need to redefine the parameters of my relationship with my smart phone, and I’d love to hear some of your techniques for keeping a healthy rapport with your technical devices.  I’ll keep you updated on my recovery; I just won’t use my smart phone to do it.

To hear the original story that inspired this blog, please visit:

Monday, September 30, 2013

Get Up That Tree

Nature is a dominant theme in my writing, and I think it is so because it has been my most constant companion. Wherever I go, I can find it:

In the city or in the country,
in the sky or on the ground,
look, listen, and feel—
Nature is all around.

And when I do find it, even if it’s only a few blades of grass sticking through a crack in a concrete sidewalk, it brings me peace.

I think that’s because I grew up in the outdoors. As a child, I was deeply connected to nature—in tune with the environment around me. I played outside so often that I could tell it was dinnertime just by seeing the shape of the shadows from the sun. Who needed a watch when you had Mother Nature?  She ran better than any old Timex.

When I climbed a tree as a kid, the only thing I thought about was getting up the tree,

 If I grab that branch with this hand and pull up, then my foot can go right there.

My mind had a singular focus, clear of all other distractions. I wasn’t thinking about the pile of homework waiting for me in my room or why my softball coach moved me down in the batting order. My focus was simple—get up that tree.

I don’t climb as many trees as I use to, but nature still has that effect on me.  Nature reminds me to take a few breaths and calm my mind of all the extraneous worries keeping me from accomplishing the task at hand. 

When I find that I’m overwhelmed by the to-do list running through my head, I leave my cell phone on the table and step outside. Five minutes, that’s all it takes (well, maybe ten if it’s a particularly difficult day).   My technique is simple: I find one natural element and give it my full attention: 

An ant crawling up the wall,
birds flying up high,
a leaf about to fall,
or a cloud slowly passing by.

When my mind stops racing
and I can describe
the way ants are marching
in one long line,

I count to three
now knowing,
just breath…

I’m ready to go inside.