By Richard Daley
Recently I was leading a group of young children on a walk through the woods.
We stumbled upon a clearing which allowed us to observe a flock of Canada geese flying overhead in their esteemed V-shape formation. The geese vehemently honked as they soared south on their bi-yearly exodus, leaving the children in a state of fascination.
These kids were from the inner-city, where the calls of soaring geese may be lost to them within the cacophony of the urban environment. To some this was a wondrous opportunity to open up their senses to perceptual experiences outside of the day-to- day, and just be. Others asked questions, and had to know more. The vastness of the wooded area alone was enough to get them thinking about the richness and depth of Mother Earth’s genius and beauty. But the charm of this moment was in the joy found in simplicity, and how easily it can be missed.
Working with kids I can say with certainty that cutting through the noise and digital dust storm is not an easy task nowadays.
With so many of our youth engulfed in the glare of devices and the hypnosis of “influencers,” our kids are sadly missing opportunities to connect with the natural world. Inner-city and suburban kids are especially at a disadvantage, where cities and newer developments have seen reduced green space, generally speaking, over the past century.
Thankfully, many community organizations and cities are coming together to achieve more green space, but as an article in the science news magazine Eos puts it, “Done right, adding new green space in and around our cities can improve human health, revitalize ecosystems, and boost a region’s economy. Done wrong, it can worsen existing socioeconomic and ecological problems or even create new ones.”
How then do we do it right?
Well, there are a lot of people smarter than I figuring that out; nonetheless, I think the most important thing to consider is human well-being. That moment the Canada geese flew overhead offered a pure and direct connection for those youth, and for a few minutes a complete immersion of varying depths and scopes into Nature and her grace. This brief period offered a respite from the hectic city life, and a glimpse of what parks and Nature connection can offer to our kids. There was no need for quantified data, the truth of that time was clear and present, the value of which was beyond measure.
The encounter then brought us to the topic of migration.
Many of the kids associated the word migration with birds, as do many adults from my experience. I used the opportunity to explain how migration represents the general movement of organisms from one place to another. We talked about how even people migrate in various ways; sometimes to temporarily escape the cold of winter—in the case of snowbirds (no pun intended)— and other times to liberate themselves from unfortunate social situations like war, famine, or loss of their homes or communities.
Some had questions about Native Americans—tribes having lived in the very area we walked upon. This conversation conjured up a period of introspection and compassion.
What blossomed from a readily available opportunity outdoors was a learning experience for both myself, and the children looking to me for guidance in an unfamiliar place. It made even clearer my commitment to connecting kids with Nature, and how important that work is. The clarity confirmed how communities must value these interactions, and must make certain they occur more frequently.
The author Richard Louv put it best when he said, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).” To make known how important this time is, we only have to look to a recent study.
Out of 2,000 parents, 43% say their children would rather watch television than go outside to play with friends, while another 42% prefer to play computer games.
So to me, in my heart of hearts, I hope a desire was spurred within these kids to go outside more, and spend less time staring at glowing screens. Quite honestly, those numbers are not only scary, but they are another factor in the formula of societal deterioration that we all should be worried about.
I was left humbled by these kids as much as I was left pondering this term migration, and what it truly means, or can mean to different individuals. In my mind, I realized that the idea of place in the modern, jet-setting world, may be preconditioned in our collective consciousness as a geographical location.
Connecting my thoughts to the above study, I wondered; how do we migrate, not from place to place, rather back to a community and cultural dedication where we encourage kids to get outdoors? One where parents encourage it, where role models encourage it, and where responsible adults set the example for our youngsters and share in the joy of the outdoors.
There is certainly work to be done, as I have first hand observed a lack of enthusiasm for outdoor activities from adults who should be the ones encouraging kids in their care to go outside, to step out of their comfort zone, and to put down the video game controller or tablet.
As a father, I have watched multiple parents of young children completely ignoring their kids playing outdoors at parks and playgrounds while they loom over their digital devices, succumbing to the feedback loop of technological dopamine hits; all the while missing their children grow up, and missing the wonder of outdoor play.
As demonstrated in these paragraphs, it really doesn’t take much examination to observe how we, as a human society, have disconnected ourselves from the natural world, and from true community.
We have achieved this by subscribing—and I use this word with reason—to opinions and ideas that work toward the very disintegration of the community and connection to the ecological continuum we so dearly need to feel whole in this world. How have we migrated away from reasonable communities and places of meaning that once existed? Kids used to be able to run free, to play, to explore.
At present, small kids are put on leashes, watched over by “nanny cams.” Many of these kids grow into toddlers that become absorbed in digitalized existence. Society seems to deem this acceptable, and it is normalized. But this comes at the cost of less time outside, a lack of exposure to Nature, and some children having to wait ten years to notice a flock of geese above.
We must remedy this.
We must consider how we, as individuals, can work toward rebuilding and refocusing on the true communities that we, again as individuals, need to impact, and be impacted by. These communities must value their collective relationship to the Earth, and teach values to their kids that bring forth the proper understanding of the natural world.
The first step is getting kids outside, and letting them submerge themselves in the marvels of Nature.
If we could altogether choose a direction, or a path to follow, whom would choose a trek toward absolute disaster of unheard proportions? Almost nobody. Yet those who have lost themselves in the artificial fantasies fed to them through mobile devices, filtered images of false perfection, and other hollow, and soulless abstractions of human existence, need to understand that we are already on that path, and we all must wake up to the reality of the moment.
If a better path is to be followed, one of meaningful collective existence within a caring and environmentally aware community, we must forge it’s presence. We must bring about the positive change we want to see. This starts with the one we see in the mirror. Life is made possible by the wisdom and brilliance of Mother Earth, everything starts with her, and to ignore this fact is to ignore life.
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