Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

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

From the Blog

Nature is Where You Find It — Even in a Strip Development

Excerpted from “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting to Life in a Virtual Age

When traveling, I walk to restore myself. Even in the loudest, most congested cities I usually find remnants of the natural world hiding in plain sight.

I take photographs with my mobile-phone camera of moving water and light and sky, and critters — a groundhog shimmying across the greens of a university campus in upstate New York, a tangle of trout in a Connecticut stream, a fox slipping through downtown Little Rock — and as I stand there, I send these photographs to my wife. The camera gives me the excuse to stop, look, and listen.

One November afternoon in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in search of lunch, I walked out the front door of a Holiday Inn and ambled north along a commercial strip.

There were no sidewalks, so I kept to a grass berm, walking through parking lots, across gravel, to a street with no pedestrian crosswalk or pedestrian light. The drivers were mad with desire, the traffic an endless knot.

I waited for a long time at a stoplight, then made my dive across the road. I trudged past Hooters (packed) and a Dream Girls strip joint (not so packed), to another intersection. I crossed the pavement of a gas station, then went down a grass slope to an Applebee’s. I ate while reading the news on my phone, surrounded by flat screens. Sports announcers were drowned out by the recorded song of the generic male bodice-ripping rocker. I paid up.

Outside, I noticed a side street and a hint of woods, so I headed in that direction. I still heard the heavy traffic beyond the trees, and an occasional car went by, but this piece of the natural world slowly found me.

I looked up through bare branches at the gray cirrus, and watched a red-tailed hawk circle and swoop. I recalled something I had recently learned: Filmmakers will often dub the prosaic red tail’s haunting cry over the image of the more exotic bald eagle, because the nation’s symbol sometimes sounds like a dog’s squeak toy. I wondered what the hawk sees, and I already knew the answer: anything it wants to see.

Above the trees, above the hawk, leaves were falling from the sky. Maybe they were sent aloft this afternoon by the same upwell that supported the hawk, or perhaps they were captured by a whirlwind weeks ago, and only now were coming back to the earth.

I continued walking. I came to a chain across a path buried in leaves. A No Trespassing sign hung there. Stepping over the chain, I followed the path deep into the woods.

A few minutes later, I came to a concrete bridge over a slow-running creek, where I stood and peered into the water. Leaves rolled along the brown mud. As I watched the current, I recalled using Google Earth to locate the creek of my boyhood, and finding it, or what was left of it, as I looked down from a virtual sky.

Now something heavy and frantic burst through the tangle of vines. A fleeting brown flank. The thud of hooves. Then silence. I held my breath, looking for the deer — it was there but I couldn’t see it, like the mouse in Goodnight Moon.

A sound like rain came from the nearly bare limbs above and I looked up to see leaves still clinging to the high branches, or shaking as they let go. The wind rose, the clattering grew, the sound and smell of water and earth and sky and deer and me and the whole world beyond Hooters spiraled upward into the gray-blue sky.

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Photo by the author

Prev post: Talking Nature-Deficit Disorder

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