Excerpt from The Nature Principle
Introduction: Nature-Deficit Disorder for Adults
Listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go.
—E. E. Cummings
We traveled down a dirt road through the melting adobe village of Puerto de Luna, New Mexico, crossed a low bridge over the shallow Pecos River and entered a valley of green chili fields held by red-rimmed sandstone bluffs. Jason, our older son, then three, was asleep in the back seat.
"Is it this turn?" I asked my wife. "The next one," Kathy said. I got out of the rental car and unhooked the gate, and we drove onto the land owned by our friends Nick and Isabel Raven. They were away working in Santa Fe that year, and their farm and house were vacant. We had come to know them before Jason was born. Kathy and I had lived two summers in nearby Santa Rosa, where she had worked in a local hospital.
Now, after a stressful period of our lives, we were back for a couple of weeks.
We needed this time for ourselves, and we needed it for Jason. We entered the dusty adobe house. I inspected the room addition that I had helped Nick build during one of those summers. I turned on the electricity and the water (indoor plumbing had finally come to the Raven homestead), walked into the kitchen, and opened the faucet. A foot-long centipede leapt out of the drain, its tail whipping toward my face. I don't know who was more startled, the centipede or me, but I was the one holding the steak knife.
Later, as Kathy and Jason took naps, I walked outside in the heat, found Nick's rusted folding chair, and set it in the shade of a tree next to the adobe. Nick and I had rested under the branches of this tree between bouts of mixing adobe mud in a pit filled with straw, sand, earth, and water. I thought about Nick, about our political arguments, about the green-chili stew that Isabel heated on a wood stove and served in tin bowls, even in the hottest hours.
Now I sat alone and looked out over the field toward a line of distant cottonwoods that rimmed the Pecos. I watched the afternoon thunderheads rise above the high desert to the east and the layers of sandstone across the river. The field of chili shivered in the sun. Above me, leaves rattled and tree limbs scratched. My eyes settled on a single cottonwood at the river, its branches and upper leaves waving in a slow rhythm above all the others. An hour, perhaps more, went by. Tension crawled up and out of me. It seemed to twist in the air above the green field. Then it was gone. And something better took its place.
Twenty-four years later, I often think about the cottonwood at the river's edge, and similar moments of inexplicable wonder, times when I received from nature just what I needed: an elusive it for which I have no name.
We have thought about moving to New Mexico ever since. Or rural Vermont. But we are reminded daily that it also occurs where we already live — and even within the densest cities, where the urban wild still exists in the most unexpected places. It can be restored or even created where we live, work, and play.
We're not alone in feeling this hunger.
* * *
One day in Seattle, a woman literally grabbed my lapels and said, "Listen to me, adults have nature-deficit disorder, too." She was right, of course.
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