Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

From the Blog

Place Blindness: Searching for Authenticity and Identity

You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.
—Wendell Berry

 

M

 

y wife, Kathy, was raised in San Diego. I moved here from Kansas in 1971, just out of college. She had spent little time exploring the natural habitats of this region, and I viewed it as a resort city, beautiful in its way, but I missed the green woods and plains of the Midwest. So when I looked for nature here, I saw less than met the eye.

For years, we were restless. We bored our friends with all our talk of moving, of finding our one true place. We even bored ourselves. One day Kathy said, “Our tombstones are going to say, ‘We’re moving.’”

Today, I feel differently. I may never bond to this region as I did to the woods behind my boyhood home, and who knows, we may yet move. But I no longer have quite the same reaction when people ask me where I am from. 

In the past, I might have said Kansas or Missouri. But now I say that California is my home. Given a chance, I will tell them about the richness of my region, and the strangeness and beauty born from its biodiversity. I will tell them of our nascent sense of natural purpose.

What if San Diego fully exploited – in the best sense of that word – our natural history? What if our museums, the zoo, the universities, media, business and government were to perceive, preserve and market our region in a new way?

We are more than beaches, zoo or sunshine. Yes, our county is one of the most densely human-populated places in the United States, but it also is rich with species, the most biodiverse county in the lower 48 states.

Here is a land of microclimates, of ring-tailed cats and mountain lions, condors, whales, sea turtles, great white sharks, waterspouts and firestorms. Anza-Borrego and Pacific; Cuyamaca, Laguna, Palomar. Our mountains hold canyons so deep and yawning that when we camp in them in midsummer, we can awake in the morning shivering in frost. In hidden streams, a diminutive Adam or Eve may still swim, the genetic remnants of the founder rainbow trout that migrated north thousands of years ago to populate, with human help, so much of the world. In Northern Baja, also part of this region, isolated sky islands jut above the clouds; there, life remains “a relic of the Pleistocene,” as one biologist describes it, “Ethereal … primeval.”

I had no clue how otherworldly my adopted corner of the world was, until, as a journalist, I made it my job to dig deeper. Until then, I had place blindness. Perhaps I was afraid to attach because of the pace of human change.

But today, development has slowed, and we have a chance to fully realize our home as one of the unique bioregions in the world. When I describe my home now, I point to local efforts to create natural corridors for animal migration, protect endangered species, produce more local food, and green our schools and neighborhoods. I tell about our river conservancies and Mission Trails Park and San Diego Canyonlands, a farsighted group working to dedicate 10,000 acres of our unique topology of urban canyons as a Regional Canyonlands Park. I describe the San Diego Children and Nature Collaborative, one of America’s leading campaigns to connect children to nature. I point to our expanding network of family nature clubs.

And Kathy and I work to reduce our own nature-deficit disorder.

In an increasingly fabricated culture, we yearn for authenticity. The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we will need. So the value of nature will, or should, grow. If we honor this hunger and this place, our sense of regional and individual identity will be shaped as much by natural history as it is by human history.

Perhaps we should give our border-spanning bioregion a unifying name, something romantic and mysterious, a name that would draw visitors from all over the world, help our economy and increase the odds that future generations will protect this natural wealth. Perhaps an ancient Kumeyaay word. Or, call it Cuyabaja? Possibly Pandora? By any name, this would be our found world, our purposeful place.

_____________________________

 


This piece originally appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune, and was adapted from a chapter in The Nature Principle.

Richard Louv is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network.

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Comments

By “March 6” I assume you mean May 6…I picked up an advance reading copy of The Nature Principle and I am riveted! Sad that we need a call to go outside—but glad that you are making the call and inspiring all of us parents and educators to take notice. Our “screenitis” threatens to deaden our senses and suppress our survival instincts…not a good combination!

Thanks, Bill, both for the correction and the compliment.

Richard:
We have a nature-deficit activities inside nature. I noted that your book mentioned mountain biking, yet mountain biking is teaching our children that the rough treatment of nature is okay—from their riding styles to the very destructive trail building and structure building inside our woods and other natural areas. It is a society that is pushing for our National Parks, etc. to be turned into Adventure/Extreme sports Disneylands, because nature is not a good enough show on its own.

This is not real interaction with nature on nature’s own terms here. Such “benign” sports as mountain biking is the wanton conquering of nature, where the exciting world of computer games and electronics spills into the woods. Like those nature-deficit soldiers, you write about, who cannot see past the windshield of their humvees, we also have a culture of adults and children who view nature through their blindering full face helmets, ripping and shredding at high speeds, jumping off amusement park-like structures in the woods built for mountain biking:teeter-totters, wall rides, roller-coasters; and even a hamster wheel structure in the woods out my way. I kid you not. This kind of activity is not teaching our children or adults about appreciation of nature.

They are not communing with nature at all. Nature has no more value for mountain bikers and other reckless off-roaders than if they were playing an electronic computer game. They are in the woods, but they remain nature deficit by their activities (building and riding). Just because children and adults are out in nature, it is their activities which will prove whether they remain nature-deficit or not. Mountain bikes are akin to motorized dirt bikes, and do the same, if not more damage to our natural places because people have embraced mountain biking as some kind of benign, and green sport. It is far from it!

We must not condone that kind of thing, but your book “sits on the fence” on that fact, Richard. What message are you sending us?

I like the New Nature Movement that I heard Richard Louv speak of at a public lecture tonight.  I specifically like the idea of widening the “environmentalism” tent.  I would definitely include mountain biking as a way for some people to enjoy and connect to nature.  There is a great danger in making some ways the right way to connect with nature, and others the wrong way.

Well I guess things are up for debate, everyone is going to have varying opinions. My husband, a few weeks ago, showed me the spot (still there!) where for hours he made jumps with his friends for their mountain bikes. That’s a deep rooted childhood memory and connection he has. He was outside for hours and hours everyday. I would rather my son do that than stay indoors and play video games.

Just saw you in Vancouver Richard (I’m glad you weren’t slicing and dicing onions!) It was great to hear you speak and meet you in person. ( I was with my 4 yr old son).

One thing you mentioned really resonated with me and it was inspiring.

Creating a positive image for our planet is really imperative and a vision of what we would like for the future.

Our children need to see all of us taking a positive approach to creating our future and theirs. They are picking up such doom and gloom and negativity from all sides. Lets give them a chance to enjoy, connect with Nature and themselves and not burden them too much with the travesties and devastation. We all need HOPE right now. Lets give that to our children and to ourselves.

“What you do may seem insignificant but it’s very important that you do it” - Gandhi

I like the New Nature Movement that I heard Richard Louv speak of at a public lecture tonight.  I specifically like the idea of widening the “environmentalism” tent.
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The IMBA website has a large, in-depth section on trail building. They have loads of great tips on how to make a trail that will be more fun to ride, and more friendly to the environment.DIY

I noted that your book mentioned mountain biking, yet mountain biking is teaching our children that the rough treatment of nature is okay—from their riding styles to the very destructive trail building and structure building inside our woods and other natural areas.

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Your post is one of the nice posts I have ever read. The conversation itself proved that your article is quite a treasure. Keep on posting more insightful posts.

I will tell them about the richness of my region, and the strangeness and beauty born from its biodiversity.

I would definitely include mountain biking as a way for some people to enjoy and connect to nature.  There is a great danger in making some ways the right way to connect with nature.

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Mountain bikes are akin to motorized dirt bikes, and do the same, if not more damage to our natural places because people have embraced mountain biking as some kind of benign, and green sport. It is far from it!

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Very interesting post. Searching for authenticity and identity must be a life goal.

I would even go a step further and say that understanding pour “place” is not only enriching for us as humans (having a deep connection and knowledge, ourselves), it may well be the key to living sustainably on the planet. Each bio-region will have its own unique needs and challenges. Imagine how differently our cities might be built if they were built to the unique design specs of the bio-region!
Grace
The Biomimicry Institute

I like the New Nature Movement that I heard Richard Louv speak of at a public lecture tonight.They have loads of great tips on how to make a trail that will be more fun to ride, and more friendly to the environment

I point to local efforts to create natural corridors for animal migration, protect endangered species, produce more local food, and green our schools and neighborhoods. Thanks mate.

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