Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the International Bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

PLANET HOPE: On People & Nature

What the Humanities Mean to the Future of Journalism

This essay was first published by California Humanities in 2016: “As part of a national celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize, California Humanities convened a series of discussion forums throughout the state through the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative. One of our earlier discussion forums was on the topic of Journalism and Democracy in California; and we thought that a post-election blog reminding our readers of the important relationship between the humanities and journalism was needed. Please read through for a blog contribution by author Richard Louv, one of our We Are the Humanities 40 notable Californians, discussing this traditional yet tenuous relationship.”

During my lifetime, the humanities and journalism have been interdependent, each improving and nourishing the other. The future of that relationship is not guaranteed.

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The Lion

________


The time seems like just the other day …

… the boys are small. We’re staying in a three-room cabin beside the Owens River on the east slope of the Sierras. We can hear the October wind move down from the mountains. The boys are in their beds, and I read to them from the 1955 juvenile novel, “Lion Hound,” by Jim Kjelgaard.

I have had this book since junior high. I read:

“When Johnny Torrington awoke, the autumn dawn was still two hours away. For five luxurious minutes he stretched in his warm bed, the covers pulled up to his chin while he listened to the wind blowing through the bedroom’s open window. Though the wind was no colder than it had been yesterday, it seemed to have a quality now that had been lacking then.”

Kjelgaard describes the hills of California, still alive with “tawny puffs of smoke” able “to break a bull’s neck and yet are so secretive.” I glance at the boys.

My youngest son’s eyes, made larger by strong round glasses, widen. My older boy tucks his face under the blanket, where he can surely see the lion circling.

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The Special Meaning of a New Cover Design for "Last Child"

Not long ago, my great editor Amy Gash sent me the new jacket design of “Last Child in the Woods.” The image has a special meaning for me. Neither Amy or the designer were, at that time, aware of a story I’ve told to only a few friends. I’ll tell it here anyway.

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The Virtual Blacksmith Shop: In the post-Covid world, working from home may be the norm. It's an old tradition.

When my boys were small, I considered myself lucky to work at home. At the time, I missed my colleagues in the newsroom. Still do, on both counts. In 1995, I wrote a column about working from home, which was later included in The Web of Life, and adapted here:

We should be cautious when we talk about traditional fatherhood. Which tradition?

As a writer, I spend much of my time in a home office staring at a computer screen. Often on weekends, or after school, my sons head for the small Macintosh that sits a few feet away from my bigger Mac. I work in a virtual blacksmith shop.

Working from home was the norm for many parents before the Industrial Revolution swept men up and sent them off to the widget factories, and later to office parks and office building, where women eventually and rightly joined them.

In those days, fathers spent a lot of time close to their children. On the farm, in the store downstairs, in the blacksmith shop next door, a child might work with his father, might hand him the tools of his trade or might play to one side while his father worked.

The sinew of this earlier tradition was time and proximity. Being there. Being nearby. And of course this was true for mothers and their children, too.

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Our Wild Calling: Release of New Paperback Edition

Today, the paperback edition of “Our Wild Calling” is officially released. I hope you’ll share this news with friends and colleagues. They may find it especially helpful during the time of Covid, as we increasingly turn to other animals (wildlife and pets) for meaning and connection — not only for our sake, but for the sake of the larger family of animals.

We’ve added a new section to this edition, including: a comprehensive resource list for people who want to take action at home and beyond (organizations focused on habitat and animal welfare; sources for job possibilities; research and educational resources. Also: a list of discussion questions for book groups, schools and classes (hopefully held outdoors); and an author Q&A related to the pandemic and new research. Hardback, ebook, audible, large print, and foreign editions are also available.

I’m deeply appreciative for the support so many of you continue to give to “Our Wild Calling,” as well as “Last Child in the Woods” and my other books; and also to the Children & Nature Network and other good organizations connecting children, families and communities to the natural world.

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Woman of the Prairie

Photo by Matthew Henry on Wunderstock

Recently, I have been thinking about Lucy Hollembeak, a surviver of the 1918 influenza pandemic. I first met her when I worked as a college intern for The Arkansas City Daily Traveler, in a hard-edged little town on the Kansas and Oklahoma border.

I was nineteen and knew no one in the town beyond the paper’s staff. My high school history teacher in Kansas City, Gerald Hollembeak, had suggested I look up his mother.

So I did. In June 1968, I introduced myself to her. Her husband had died in 1959, and since then she had lived alone. Every few evenings we would talk about politics, about religion, about what we came to call “the ache,” the painful pleasure of being alive.

As I came to know and admire her, I was moved by her wisdom—how she conserved what was valuable, appreciated what was small, needed little, but had a mind as broad as the prairie itself. She had written poetry all of her life, scribbled on scraps of paper. When I returned to college, after my summer in Ark City, a poem or two would arrive in the mail now and then.

Decades passed. I had not seen her since that summer.

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Readers Have Been Sending Photos. Please Send Yours.

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What is Nature-Deficit Disorder?

The term Nature-Deficit Disorder® was introduced in 2005 with the publication of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

I coined the phrase to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from nature and it is not meant to be a medical diagnosis (although perhaps it should be), but as a way to talk about an urgent problem that many of us knew was growing, but had no language to describe it. The term caught on, and is now a rallying cry for an international movement to connect children to rest of nature. Since then, this New Nature Movement has broadened to include adults and whole communities.

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The Children & Nature Network: Please Give Kids the Gift of Nature

Over a decade ago a small group of hopeful people co-founded the Children & Nature Network. As you know, C&NN was created to bring together unlikely allies from all over the country, and now the world, to build a movement to connect children and nature and overcome what, in Last Child in the Woods, I called nature-deficit disorder.

Each December, my wife, Kathy, and I write a year-end check to C&NN. If you haven’t already become a member of C&NN or made a donation, I hope you’ll join us this week.

Here are some examples of C&NN’s good work:

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15 Characteristics of Leadership Writing

A few years ago, I worked with a national awards program called Leadership for a Changing World. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, it honored grassroots leaders who were making life better in communities of hardship and possibility. That program continued as an initiative of New York University|Wagner. Curiously, these inspiring people did not think of themselves as leaders. But surely they practiced the kind of leadership we need most.

My job was to advise the award-winners on how to best frame and communicate their issues. As part of that work, I put together a list of characteristics of what I considered Leadership Writing. In 2018, these principles may seem archaic, even naive, but I continue to believe in their effectiveness and practice them. I hope these 15 principles are useful to you. Also, as you read the work of journalists, columnists, bloggers—or listen to the speeches of politicians—ask yourself if they exhibit these traits. My favorite leaders do.

Leadership Writing ....

  1. Paints a picture of a world people will want to go to.
  2. Consists of one third complaint, two-thirds solution.
  3. Builds bridges rather than calling names.
  4. Compares and contrasts in a respectful way.
  5. Kills jargon.
  6. Appeals to higher values shared by the opposition.
  7. Offers contrarian, unexpected points of view.
  8. Undermines stereotypes, reaches beyond the writer’s own culture.
  9. Anticipates unintended consequences.
  10. Avoids over-reliance on the “importance” of the issue. (Every issue is “important.”)
  11. Looks for the simplifying model.
  12. Helps people see what they already know but cannot picture.
  13. Uses humor whenever possible.
  14. Serves as an antidote to cultural depression.
  15. Offers accurate hope, because there is no practical alternative.
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