Luke McGuff (holyoutlaw) wrote,
Luke McGuff

The Nature Principle

By Richard Louv
Workman Publishing, New York, 2011

I must admit, I had a defensive reaction to the idea of “nature deficit disorder” when I first encountered it. I grew up in Chicago, and was much more likely to take the el downtown than to ride my bike to Columbus Park.

It was when a teacher at Antioch assigned The Geography of Childhood (Concord Library) that I began to get a clue: free roaming time is important in childhood development. The child learns some independence, learns to get along with others, and develops an internal map and sense of spatial awareness. The value of having this free roaming happen in nature, as opposed to a built environment, is the roughness and unpredictability of the terrain. Even a fairly well-groomed park has more unpredictability than an arrow-straight el line.

“Nature-deficit disorder” is the lack of experience with nature. Not just wilderness, but even the mundane nature we can create or recreate in our cities. Louv introduced the concept in “Last Child in the Woods” and it resonated strongly enough to make that book an international best seller. He continues with this book, focusing on adults and communities and what they (we) can do to reduce nature-deficit disorder in ourselves and everyone.

“The Nature Principle” described experiences I’ve had, which lead me further into its ideas.

“Plant blindness,” for instance: the inability to distinguish or identify plants. When I first went into North Beach Park, I figured it was all weeds. After 18 years of living in Seattle, I had no idea what was a native plant or not. It wasn’t just the apartment living, it was also the way gardens are so strongly organized around the same commercially available plants. As I’ve learned about native plants, their uses by Native Americans, their seasons, the forest has opened up to me. Now the skunk cabbage and osoberry are early signs of spring; the Pacific waterleaf and water parsley dying back are early signs of fall. A deeper experience of the nature around us leads to a deeper understanding of the natural (and in the Americas, pre-Columbian) history of our region, and a deeper connection to place (another point Louv makes in this book).

The idea of the “nearby nature trust.” This is what we’re creating when we volunteer in a park. I’ve seen a Stellar’s Jay and pileated woodpeckers in North Beach Park, and it has supported a heron rookery in the past. For animals that can cross the intervening mosaic, North Beach Park provides an important patch between Carkeek and Golden Gardens. Because it’s always ten degrees cooler in the ravine, it can provide a refuge for native plants and smaller animals and birds as the planet warms.

The Nature Principle is to me a very empowering book, because it shows examples of what we can do to heal the world, and that small things are worth doing because they can have big effects.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

Tags: commentary, nature deficit disorder, north beach park, review, richard louv, the geography of childhood, the nature principle, urban restoration

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