Wildside: Are we living in the real world?Last Friday morning was cold, about 5 °F. I walked down to the pole shed to get a flat tire off our wood-hauling trailer. The air was still and the rosy light of dawn made stark silhouettes of the tree branches. I could hear the chickadees and nuthatches waking up from their cold night roosts in the evergreens. A pileated woodpecker swooped through yelling its wild laugh. Badger was out surveying the woods looking and smelling for anything interesting.
By: Dan Wilcox, columnist, Pierce County Herald
Last Friday morning was cold, about 5 °F. I walked down to the pole shed to get a flat tire off our wood-hauling trailer. The air was still and the rosy light of dawn made stark silhouettes of the tree branches. I could hear the chickadees and nuthatches waking up from their cold night roosts in the evergreens. A pileated woodpecker swooped through yelling its wild laugh. Badger was out surveying the woods looking and smelling for anything interesting.
An hour later I was at work in St. Paul sitting at a desk in a comfortably warm office looking out over an urban landscape, a completely built environment. The only natural thing to be seen out the window was a wintry gray sky.
I focused on my computer screen writing technical reports. At lunch, my friend Jeff said that about 40 teenagers will convene at their house for his daughter’s 17th birthday. Jeff said that his daughter and her friends all carry cell phones and send text messages to each other constantly, even when they are together. With snowfall predicted for Friday evening, I asked Jeff if the teenagers plan to do some skiing or tobogganing in the falling snow. Jeff said that they will probably not leave the house until the party is over.
I wonder about the future of our youth and this country. The attraction to the inside built environment, processed food, sugary soda, television, the internet and electronic communication is making a generation of people with many who are disconnected from the real world, narcissistic, obese and with attention deficit disorders.
“Nature-deficit disorder” was named by Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods” to describe what happens to young people who become disconnected from their natural world. Parents, teachers and public health officials are growing increasingly alarmed at the incidences of childhood obesity, juvenile diabetes, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) disorders. About one in three children in this country are overweight or obese. Although the causes of these conditions vary, it is the case that young people are spending less time outdoors than they did years ago.
Francis Kuo and Andra Taylor Faber of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a study about the impact of relatively “green” or natural settings on ADHD symptoms. They studied diverse subpopulations of children. They found that outdoor activities reduced ADHD symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted indoors. Their findings were consistent across age, gender, income groups, community types, geographic regions and diagnoses.
With the rapidly growing human-created challenges facing our world, we need a stronger and wider understanding of environmental science. Our young people need environmental education and to re-connect to the real world outside.
My message to parents and young people is to get away from the computer. Turn off the TV. Turn off the cell phone. Take a hike outside. Carefully observe the real world. Take joy in its beauty and learn how the real world works.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.