Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

Blog Posts: January 2017

WATCHING A PRESIDENT

 

 

On inauguration day in 1961, I was 11 going on 12. I was home sick, under a blanket, in my grandmother’s parlor. She lived in Independence, Missouri in the white Victorian house her parents built in the 1880s. Her house was a few blocks from the Truman home. She was born in 1884, when Chester A. Arthur was president. He succeeded President James A. Garfield, assassinated in 1881.

She was a kind, quiet widow who took in roomers during the Depression. I don’t recall her ever saying anything unkind to or about anyone. I was convinced the house was haunted.

On the day the young president stepped to the microphone, I was watching a small black and white Philco. I recall that speech, and that room, as vividly as I remember the other images and feelings that came later, on the day he died.

It was bitterly cold on the day of the inauguration. Kennedy did not wear a hat. As he spoke, I sat up, deeply inspired and didn’t know why. It was not what he said, it was how he said it. Even with his flaws, Kennedy lifted us up, made us feel that we were a better people.

Barack Obama was born six months later.

Many years later, I was in a high school auditorium on Chicago’s South Side. I had been invited to attend Obama's announcement of a White House program that would provide a free annual pass to every 4th grader, and their entire family, to any National Park and many other federal lands and waters. Private money would be raised to provide buses for the kids least likely to experience wilderness.

Before he spoke, about 30 of us were ushered behind a curtain to meet the president.

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FLYOVER LAND: What's Right With Kansas

Photo by Rachel Miles, Creative Commons

Photo by Rachel Miles, Creative Commons

D

riving south on Interstate 135, from Salina toward Arkansas City, I can see the giant rolls of hay that look like mammoth shredded wheat, and the long hedgerows of Osage orange trees planted as windbreaks during the Depression, now taller than I remember them.

Cream white waves of tall grass. The wind coming across, always the wind.

This is the flyover land. Jets stream far above and people with briefcases and laptop computers look down and feel glad that they are not driving across this seeming emptiness. But when you drive across north and central Kansas, particularly if you are originally from this country, you do not feel the fatigue and the tension that accumulates on urban freeways.

The land is soothing and nurturing and layered with mystery. Riding a bus across the state in the '60s, I remember awakening suddenly, a bit disoriented, sitting up in the night to see long lines of flame stretching across the Flint Hills prairie, annually burned by ranchers.

The lines of flame were galactic in their brilliance and desolation and beauty. Now, decades later, the miles fly by.

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