I really enjoyed yesterday’s assignment. I connected with new Blogging 101 classmates and that was fun. One exchange in particular has inspired this post. The beautiful pictures and poetry on Fleeting Muse touch on Nature’s beauty.
A somewhat casual comment about the beauty of the pictures and the poetry led to a deeper exchange. J1818 expressed some concerns about sharing nature’s beauty:
“It’s a double edged sword. When we make nature more accessible to people, we start destroying what we go looking for.”
I take a different approach to the role that nature can play in creating the next generation of conservationists. It is shaped by my personal connection to nature and I should state at the outset that I grew up and live in the Piedmont region of the Eastern United States (Virginia and North Carolina). There is plenty of natural beauty but nothing particularly rare or endangered. So that background is why I value the importance of putting people IN nature more than keeping pristine natural areas untouched by human interference.
I also grew up in what I like to call the “be home by dark” generation. It was fully accepted and expected that when I got home from school, I would go outside and play. As long as I was home by dark there was no particular cause for concern.
Today’s children have a different relationship with the great outdoors. If they have time in nature, it is usually structured – a family hike; maybe if they are lucky, a girl scout or boy scout camping trip. Afternoons and weekends are taken up with soccer practice, music lessons and other structured activities. Some parents are even afraid to let their children be outdoors without adult supervision.
There are many studies that suggest the lack of connection with nature has created a number of the problems our children experience today – from ADHD to obesity – lack of a daily dose of “Vitamin N” (exposure to nature) is identified as the culprit.
But quite honestly it is not the health of today’s children that worries me the most about this disconnect between children and nature. I’ve devoted the last 15 years of my professional life to providing my legal expertise to a nonprofit regional land trust. I left the private practice of law to work for a nonprofit because I wanted to do something that mattered. It’s my own version of “saving the world – one farm at a time.” It has been the most rewarding career of my life (and I’ve had quite a few.)
When I started this work 15 years ago, there were plenty of people who were willing to place permanent restrictions on their land to be sure that it would remain in its undeveloped, natural state. Over time, the number of people willing to do that has decreased. It is harder to do our work now and over the next 15 years it will get even harder.
So rather than worry about “mission drift” (nonprofit lingo for drifting away from the reason your nonprofit was started) when we start to spend more time organizing family nature outings, I view that as a critical component of our mission – to insure that future generations will have the desire to protect nature and to financially support the organizations that make that possible.
Yes, I think it is a good idea to reduce childhood obesity and ADHD, but I mostly want to make sure that 20 or 30 years from now there will be people who are willing to preserve nature for the “next” generation.
So the simple exchange of ideas from the assignment for Day 8 has prompted this longer post on a topic I do feel passionate about.
If you are a parent – make sure your children get to spend as much time as possible outside. Give them a chance to explore nature on their own without guiding their every step. Let them scoop up handfuls of dirt and see what it tastes like – let them build a fort out of the fallen branches of the tree in your back yard. Let them dig a hole to the other side of the world. (I love it every time I step into the still noticeable depression in our backyard that our now 23 year old son dug the summer he was 8 in his attempt to reach China.)
If you are an adult with financial means to support a local conservation organization – learn the name of your local land trust. The Nature Conservancy does good work around the world to protect special natural areas and habitats for rare and endangered species, but there are local organizations that are doing the same work to support the landscapes that are closer to home – the ones you can enjoy every day. Believe me – they need your support much more than the Nature Conservancy does – and from a purely selfish standpoint – you’ll benefit more from the work of your local land trust than you will from any donation you make to the Nature Conservancy.
Which brings me back to the point of my earlier exchange with Fleeting Muse. I believe that people only protect what they love and people only love what they know and understand. That is why I worry about the disconnect between our children and the natural world. If we don’t instill a conservation ethic in our children, I fear that the work we’re doing now to protect natural areas for our children’s children will be erased by the next generation who hasn’t had a chance to appreciate and learn about the very thing we’re trying to protect.
Why is nature so important? It restores your weary soul. It makes you appreciate your place in the universe (rather insignificant in case you hadn’t noticed) and it reminds you of your interconnections with other species and the basic elements that provide the things you need to survive – clean water, fresh air and local food.
That – in a nutshell – is why I do what I do when I’m not blogging.