Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

ON PEOPLE & NATURE

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MIDNIGHT AT GROUND ZERO

November 4, 2001

NEW YORK -- It’s midnight at ground zero. During the day, the endless funeral procession crosses the Williamsburg Bridge or comes up out of the subways or arrives on streams of yellow taxis. People cry on the way to the towers, a Haitian cab driver will tell you. Or they’re quiet, as if holding their breath.

The smell is famous by now, a new kind of celebrity. But it only comes now and then, when the wind shifts. During the day, ground zero is dominated by the familiar spine and its attachments; the teeth and skeletal fingers reaching up toward the lost bowl of the sky. But at midnight, the fingers and the teeth disappear, and you see something else. Read Full Post.

NATURE'S OWN STIMULUS PACKAGE: 7 Ways to Improve Our Lives in Tough Economic Times

For stressed-out families, spending more time in the natural world — a nature stimulus package — may be just what the doctor and the economist ordered. Here are a few of the benefits:

1. With gas prices on the rise, families are rediscovering both the joy and the cost-effectiveness of getaways in nearby nature, including regional, state or national parks. As Outside magazine puts it, "near is the new far."

2. Unless we're talking about a new bass boat or a high-tech tent, nature toys are free or cheap, and they encourage self-directed creativity. In 2008, the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., inducted the stick, which it called not only possibly the oldest toy, but "possibly the best."

3. Green exercise is free. In the United Kingdom, and now in the United States, families are eschewing commercial indoor gyms. Groups of families form " green gyms" and meet once or twice a week to hike, garden or take some other type of exercise in the natural world. Read Full Post.

The More High-Tech Schools Become, the More They Need Nature

I

 once met an instructor who trains young people to become the pilots of cruise ships. He described the two kinds of students he encounters. One kind grew up mainly indoors, spending hours playing video games and working on computers. These students are quick to learn the ship’s electronics, a useful talent, the instructor explained. The other kind of student grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, often in nature. They, too, have a talent. “They actually know where the ship is.”

He wasn’t being cute. Recent studies of the human senses back that statement up. “We need people who have both ways of knowing the world,” he added. In “The Nature Principle,” I tell that story to describe what I call the “hybrid mind." I make the case that one goal of modern education should be to encourage such flexible thinking. Is education moving in that direction? Some schools are, but too many are putting all their eggs on one computer chip.

Almost as an article of religious faith, school districts are flooding students with computers and other Internet-connected gadgets. Yet, as The New York Times reported on Sept. 3, 2011, "to many education experts, something is not adding up." Schools are spending billions on technology "even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning."

 Read Full Post.

With the Ice Bears

In July, as an onboard lecturer with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer,  I received, as did my wife Kathy, a great gift of nature. The kind of experience that one fully appreciates only after coming home. How many people today, by luck and privilege, are able to reach the very edge of the polar ice cap? How many in history? (We were far north of indigenous populations.) Here are a few words I posted about the trip:

Midnight snow in driving wind and intimate fog. The ship moves through a portion of Hinlopen Strait, which runs about 110 miles northwest to southeast. On the morning deck, the hardier souls look upward at one of Svalbard’s largest concentrations of nesting seabirds. Here, at Kapp Fanshawe on the high cliffs of Alkefjellet, the sheer walls of dolerite are alive. The climate is high Arctic, snow turning to sleet, ice forming on the beard of the Zodiac driver. At Torelneset we hike across gravel and tundra and the sky grows larger. The island and sky and water are so broad and grey that our eyes lose perspective. Here, giant features can seem small; the tiniest flowers, Arctic buttercups, loom large. Lindblad naturalist Elise Lockton points to the bones of whales and walruses, remnants of past lives having ridden rock upward for tens of thousands of years. The ancient past seems casually present.... 

Some photos I took during this amazing experience, with, well, my pocket camera....  Read Full Post.

Want Your Kids to Get Into Harvard? Tell 'em to Go Outside!

First of two in a series

September is back-to-school month, and the chanting begins: Drill, test, lengthen the school day, skip recess, cancel field trips, and by all means discourage free time for (gasp!) self-directed play. Is that approach working, particularly in science learning? Not so well.

A few months ago, I met with a dozen biology professors at Central North Carolina University. They were deeply concerned about the dramatic deterioration of student knowledge of what's out there: these students can tell you all about the Amazon rain forest, but nothing about the plants and animals of the neighborhoods in which they live. Read Full Post.

How to Create a Neighborhood Butterfly Zone — and a Homegrown National Park

Every December, my wife, Kathy, delivers small gifts to the neighbors on our block, usually a jar of home made jam or a little vase of dried flowers, or something like that.

Now she's come up with an idea for a different kind of gift. She announced it as we were working on our yard. “This year,” she said, “I could give seeds or little starts of butterfly-attracting plants, suggest they plant them, and then our neighborhood could become a butterfly zone!” That's a terrific idea, I thought. And, as I discovered later, it would be one way to build what Doug Tallamy suggests: a “Homegrown National Park.”

Our goal was to revive our struggling yard by planting part of it with species native to the San Diego bioregion, and support native birds, butterflies and bees (especially the California species; honeybees are, in fact, not native) and other insects essential to pollination and migration routes. These, in turn, nurture and grow wild populations of animals and plants. Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home,” makes the case that everyday gardeners are the key to reviving urban biodiversity - maybe global biodiversity. Read Full Post.

The Eye of the Tree: Who's Looking at You, Kid?

T

oday, in a feature on Orion magazine's Web site, the editors ask this question: "Does technology merely distract us from the natural world—or can it help us gaze more intently at its varied forms? Richard Louv, author of the new book The Nature Principle, discussed this and more during Orion’s live web event in June, “Reimagining Nature Literacy.” Listen to a recording of the conversation here."  My article, answering that question, is here. In the piece, I described how, these days, I spend more time carrying a camera than a fishing rod. And I wrote:

I find that the camera makes me slow down and look more intently than I normally would. After one hike, I was sitting at my computer, reviewing photos of rock patterns and tree bark. I was suddenly startled by something I had not seen when I took the picture. Hidden in the bark was an eye, looking back at me.

When I posted the address to the Orion article on my Facebook page, one reader asked me to post the actual photograph. A wonderful conversation ensued. People posed their theories as to just who's eye that was, if it was an eye. One mother showed it to her son, and he concluded that the eye belonged to a dragon. I went with her son's theory. What do you think? Here's the photo. Read Full Post.

Enough is Enough. Time to Confront Legal Barriers to Gardens, Nature, Just Being Alive

File this under: You Can't Make This Stuff Up. In Oak Park, Mich., a woman faced a jail sentence for the plants in her front yard. "The illegal growth is tomatoes. And zucchinis, peppers and other edible and what normally be legal plants," ABC News reported. "The officials in Bass' hometown....have charged her with growing 'vegetable garden in front yard space.' If convicted, she could have spent up to 93 days in jail."  The case was been widely reported. Jason Knapfel, writing for DietsinReview.com, surmises, "Apparently the difference between a green pepper and a bush is enough to possibly land the vegetable grower in jail for three months."

The city officials enforcing the rules aren't the issue. They're usually just doing their job. The real question is why the public puts up with and even encourages such restrictions, whether they're written by public officials or private governments. Around the country, city ordinances and community association regulations have targeted children as well as adults. In April, homeowners in a Silver Springs, Fla. community, ostensibly concerned about "safety," tried to ban children from playing outdoors, and proposed fines of $100 for each transgression. When such cases (usually more nuanced than they're reported) reach the news media, they're usually dismissed, as happened with the Oak Park charges. But what about all the ones that don't get coverage?

A countertrend is building.

 Read Full Post.

The Nature Principle in Education: an Antidote to Teacher Burnout

“Connected and honored, natural teachers could inspire other teachers; they could become a galvanizingforce within their schools. In the process, they would contribute to their own psychological, physical, and spiritual health.”— The Nature Principle

Not long ago, I was speaking with a middle school principal in Austin who was sympathetic to the cause, but felt overwhelmed by all the demands that he and his colleagues already face. “Look, you want me to add this to my plate when it’s already overflowing?” he said. “I can’t do this without outside help.”

He was right. Bringing the classroom to nature and nature to the classroom is an enormous task, and educators need community and political support. Schools, businesses and outdoor organizations can work together to introduce students to nature centers and parks, and sponsor or promote overnight camping trips. Parent-teacher groups can raise financial support for field trips and nature programs; they can sponsor family nature nights at schools; they can give awards to those teachers who, year after year, get their students outside.

No doubt about it, schools need community support. But educators can lead the way, and one teacher can make a difference — especially if he or she reaches out to another.

Both THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS offer chapters on education. And in the video above, I share some thoughts about education with filmmaker Camilla Rockwell. But here are a few additional resources to get started (and keep going):

 Read Full Post.

Ten Reasons Why Children and Adults Need Vitamin N

I recall my father's dark tanned neck, creased with lines of dust, as he tilled our garden. I ran ahead of him, pulling rocks and bones and toys from his path." -- The Nature Principle 

In "Last Child in the Woods,” I focused on why children need nature. In my new book, “The Nature Principle,” I tell how the whole family – and whole communities -- can become happier, healthier and smarter through more contact with the natural world. I do hope you'll read the book to find out how, but for starters, here are 10 reasons children and adults need nature: Read Full Post.

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