Tuesday, June 26, 2012

If Wallace Stegner Had a Conversation with Richard Louv

I'm reading two books right now, 'Marking the Sparrow's Fall' by Wallace Stegner and 'Last Child in the Woods' by Richard Louv.  They seem to be running down the same groove.  Many of the landscapes in Stegner's book are dated, yet the ideas are not.  Unfortunately, as I read, I imagine these places and how they would look to him now.  Are you old enough to remember that commercial of the Native American with a tear in his eye looking out over a garbage-strewn landscape?  That would be Stegner's eye if he were still alive today.  I don't imagine he'd even recognize some of the places he'd been writing about. 

Stegner argues in his wilderness letter that we need wild places simply because we need to hold them in our minds.  I like that thought, except that it may come to more than that. 

Richard Louv, in his book, 'Last Child in the Woods,' argues convincingly that our psyches need to be outside in natural space every day.  He's cited studies of children with ADHD, discusses findings regarding nature and obesity, and describes the effects of programs similar to Outward Bound.  Louv believes that an individual's well-being may be linked to green time, time spent in unrefined nature.  My yard would be good for that, so I'm glad it's there when Nick and Adrian decide to go out into it.  Yet they both resist going outside to just hang out.  Once they're there, they dig holes, hack at trees, and find secret hiding spots.  We have one space I had to rescue from Mike who wanted to cut the bush over it down.  Mike didn't see the space it created, just the ugly and overgrown bush.  He'll win some day and that part of our yard will be much more in control, but for now, he's too busy.  I'm kind of glad of it. 

I've been reading Louv's book in an interesting way.  Everywhere he uses the word 'children,' I put myself in as if he's offering me personal advice with notations.   I have noticed that I respond exactly as he's describing, that I'm happier after a walk, that I feel more creative, and I'm more patient.  I do live in the Pacific Northwest where we don't get enough light and many of us suffer from Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder.  It's just not that simple.  The other day, my friend Rachel and I went for one of our usual walks, except this time we had five school children tagging along.  It was wonderful!  The kids were laughing.  The dogs were running circles around us.  Rachel and I were trying to get our usual talk in.  As usual, I was breathless walking up hill.  We had decided to reward the kids with a stop at Starbucks at the top of the ridge.  The minute we left the forest and began the trek through the new neighborhood with nice houses, the energy changed.  The kids were crabbier.  Rachel became quiet, not a good quiet.  The kids got tired and didn't feel as though they could make it one step further.  It was awful, yet we were surrounded by pretty homes with manicured yards and the sun was shining!  What was our problem?  At some point, I simply told Rachel we should turn around and go back down the forest trail.  She suggested that we could get ice cream when we were done.   Even though we were about a block away from the coffee shop, everyone agreed.  Back in the forest, everyone seemed revived.  Interesting.  This Louv guy is onto something important, at least for me and my family, something that Wallace Stegner tried for decades to describe. 

Oh, these books aren't easy reads, either of them.  Maybe it's why I've ended up reading them together, jumping from one book to the other until I'm a little confused over whose idea is whose.  Stegner, the more beautiful writer, describes canyons that have since been flooded and a man who moved away from his ranch because 'it was so crowded he needed a door on his privy.'  Louv, on the other hand, has me convinced of his truth, Stegner's truth as well, by the power of his persuasion.  He's collected so much information from so many studies.  Nick has never heard me say so many times in one week to turn off the television.  Louv's is a book that has me reacting. 

You might already know that I'm good at reacting, but I think this is worth reacting to.  I want my boy off the couch and outside cutting things down or building things.  The problem is that I'm just not sure how to go about breaking a mind that's drugged on television and video games from its strangled hold on these devices.  Since I'm only half through Louv's book, I'm hoping for some good ideas. 

I honestly think it will help Nick.  It is already helping me.

Thank you for listening, jb

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