Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

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

Blog Posts: 2011

Christmas Love Letters

Every year….

One December, I wrote a newspaper column about Linda Evangelist, of El Centro, California, who did not enjoy shopping.

Linda and the members of her family decided that, rather than buying each other presents, each would write a love letter to the other family members, to be read aloud on Christmas morning. The love letters would list at least twenty-five reasons why the person receiving the letter was loved or valued.

Among the reasons her son Brad (then a teenager) gave for loving his dad: “You would bribe me to go get ice cream late at night after Mom went to bed.” Among the reasons her two sons gave for loving their mom: “You come up with weird ideas like this one.” Among the reasons the brothers gave for loving each other: “You rode me on your handlebars to school when I was in junior high,” and “You were considerate enough to put your banana peels under the couch.” And so on

Christmas morning love lists became a tradition in the Evangelist household—and in other homes, as well. One year, at Christmas time, a talk-show host on L.A. radio station KFI read the column over the air. The idea began to spread. So I decided that my family had better get on board, too.

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The Little Things

On Thanksgiving

The little things. The click of your wife’s makeup bottles and brushes in the bathroom in the morning, the subsurface sound of them, a kind of music. The accompaniments: the older boy’s bedroom door opening and shutting in haste, a faucet running, a gust of wind in the eucalyptus, the last rain on the window. The little things are what we remember, what we know, of family life. Of life.

The large events have their place, but even the large events of a family’s passage are assembled from little things. The rush to the emergency room and the way the air feels there and the brave little chin thrust up beneath the mask, the small choked cry and the sound—especially this sound—of the thread being pulled through the wound, and the way the little hand holds tight to your finger. The little things.

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The Cure

Took medicine for nature-deficit disorder with buddy John Johns on Wednesday.
Feeling better, thanks.

Photo by John Johns

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A New Way to Shape Your Community's Future

Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.” —Gary Snyder.Â

A few months ago, at the Minnesota Arboretum, several hundred people from a variety of sectors – tourism, housing development, health care, education, and others – came together for a conference focused in part on the Nature Principle.

I was especially intrigued by the remarks of Mary Jo Kreitzer, a nursing professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. She said the state should make it a goal to become the healthiest state in the country, and that viewing the future through the prism of the Nature Principle could help Minnesota reach that goal.

She and others asked: If nature were the prism through which the future was imagined, what would it be like to live in that future?

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21 Ways to Plant a Restorative City

During the first week of November, members of the American Society of Landscape Architects and their colleagues from around the country – over 5,000 strong – met at the San Diego Convention Center. Saving the world was somewhere on the agenda.

Could they be the group with the most influence on human habitat in the future, particularly when it comes to the connection between children and adults to the rest of nature? “Because of their training, landscape architects are big thinkers, or tend to be,” says my friend, Vicki Estrada, a landscape architect, urban designer, and president of Estrada Land Planning in San Diego.

Asked to speak at the conference, I offered a starter list of suggestions for how landscape architects, and the rest of us, could truly green our cities:

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Do You Live in a "Restorative City?"

“Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.” -— Gary Snyder

Afew months ago, at the Minnesota Arboretum, several hundred people from a variety of sectors – tourism, housing development, health care, education, and others – came together for a conference focused in part on the Nature Principle.

I was especially intrigued by the remarks of Mary Jo Kreitzer, a nursing professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. She said the state should make it a goal to become the healthiest state in the country, and that viewing the future through the prism of the Nature Principle could help Minnesota reach that goal.

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Saving the Field of Dreams: Building 'Natural Cultural Capacity' to Enrich Our Parks and Cities

Despite some signs of progress, the impact of recession on public access to the natural world is a reality, and it could get worse.

Take California, for instance. In coming months, as many as 70 parks, many of them in or near urban areas will close, according to California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman. This, she says, is the only way to absorb a $33 million parks budget cut over the next two years. “California has never closed its parks in its history, through two world wars and the Great Depression,” Coleman said two weeks ago, in her keynote speech at the annual C&NN Grassroots Gathering.

Never, until now. During the Great Depression state and national parks were valued not only for the nature they preserved but for the jobs they provided and their positive economic impact on nearby private businesses. That was then, this is now. A different political climate, changing economic realities, and the widening gap between rich and poor could, literally, change the landscape.

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Apocalypse No: Something large and hopeful is forming out there. You're already creating it.

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Why is the future so often portrayed as a post-apocalyptic dystopia, filled with human brutality and stripped of nature?

For decades, our culture has struggled with two addictions: to oil and to despair. But what if our lives were as immersed in nature as they are in technology every day? What if we not only conserved nature, but created it where we live, work, learn and play? What if something large and hopeful is already forming out there; what if we’re part of it?

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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):

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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:

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The Morality of Dogs

For years, I have secretly believed that the dog I grew up with was something of a moral teacher in our family. Admitting this belief, I invite all sorts of critiques from those who, for religious or scientific reasons, object to attributing humanlike behavior to nonhuman animals. So be it. I’ll bet you had such a special friend, too.

Not long ago, I asked an animal behavioralist if dogs can be moral teachers to children. (I suppose they can be moral teachers to adults, too, but children and dogs, like Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey, can be especially attuned.) This particular animal behaviorist also earned a doctorate in the psychology of human behavior, and he is an expert on pet therapy for children.

Pets, he said, are often moral teachers, though that is not their intent. For example, pets teach children about death. “The death of a dog or cat can be the single most profound loss a human being can experience. Some people don’t want to accept the fact that an animal can mean as much, or more, to a human being as another member of the family. But it can. Children learn about dying; they can afford this price more than they can the loss of a parent.”

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Seven Reasons for a New Nature Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, by word and example, that any movement — any culture —will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go to. As others have said, his speech was not called “I Have a Nightmare.”

For decades, our culture has struggled with two addictions, to oil and to despair. It’s pretty clear by now that we can’t kick one of those habits without kicking the other. Yet, for many Americans, perhaps most of us, thinking about the future conjures up images of “Blade Runner,” “Mad Max” or Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”: a post-apocalyptic dystopia stripped of nature. We seem drawn to that flame.

It’s a dangerous fixation. Think how children and young people must feel today, growing up in a time when so many adults seem to accept, with a shrug, only darkness ahead. The key question here is: How do we change our vision of the future? Where do we start? Here’s one suggestion: reconceive environmentalism and sustainability – help them evolve into a larger movement that can touch every part of society.

Here are seven reasons for a New Nature Movement.

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