Children and Nature
I find it interesting that in a day and age where we are concerned with many things - including 'saving nature for our children' - we find ourselves with a bigger problem most of us haven't even recognized (or at least acknowledged). Our children, for the most part, are afraid of the nature we are saving. Why? Because, for too many of today's children, nature - the wilderness outside their own backyard, or even outside their back door - is a foreign territory.

I remember one family which came to visit the Trumpeter Swans at the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge here in the valley. Nothing unique about that, necessarily, except they came from Manhattan. When they first arrived, not only were the children afraid to get away from their cabin - or the lodge - or their car - but their mother (and maybe even their father) appeared to be terrified to let them.

After a day or so, and with the prodding of their own desire to play with our children, they began to stretch their horizons. As they made their 'baby' steps into the 'wilderness' (the resort yard), their mother tied bells to their pants legs and watched with obvious anxiety - clearly afraid of the unknown.

By the time they left - several days later - these concrete and asphalt children were running and playing in the 'wild' - with great abandon and overwhelming joy.

For me, it was like watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. However, in light of my recent research on the benefits children derive from spending time in nature, this metamorphosis has taken on a deeper meaning.

My own children have been blessed, for extended periods of their growing up years, to spend hours in the vast and wild outdoors. We have lived in uniquely wild and natural locations. First in a place where our nearest neighbor was over a mile away and the great USFS was out our back door. More recently at Elk Lake Resort where our nearest neighbor is over 15 miles away and we are surrounded by undeveloped pure nature. In fact, my youngest knows no other life.

Such privileges have skewed my viewpoint, I think. It wasn't until I watched four young men (nephews by marriage) at a recent family gathering spend their entire time 'playing' with gameboys that I woke up to the rest of the world. These young men, all healthy (physically) and bright, had nearly no 'conversation'. They didn't spend ANY time out of doors. In fact, they showed their strongest skills were quick thumb reactions. What a shame! I got to wondering if we aren't raising a new generation - with quick thumb reactions!

That led to the remembrance of an article I read several years ago. Written by an old cowboy, this article lamented this very fact - but from a different perspective. The cowboy writer told of traveling into the back woods one busy summer holiday weekend. He covered nearly 100 miles - and saw nearly no one (and found all the backwoods campgrounds empty). He wondered to his wife where everyone was.

The next day he went to the local 'tourist trap' - the lakeside resort area near town. And - he found everyone. His sad conclusion: we are working so hard to 'save' our lands from development for our children, and yet, we are afraid to get out and enjoy the lands we are saving.

Personally, I think we've got a two-generation problem. We've got the 'parents' generation which are aware of nature, have probably spent time during their formative years in at least large back yards if not large fields or nearby woods, and realize (at least in a back recess of their brains) the need to 'protect' our natural areas from development. However, in reality 'we' are the problem.

We 'protect' the land, but we aren't really comfortable in the 'wild' anymore. Therefore, we don't come to the land. We don't bring our children to the land. We don't enjoy (and teach our children to enjoy) the land. We foolishly think by 'saving' the land, we somehow have done our duty. And, yet, will our children thank us?

As we 'save' this land, we close more and more land to public access. What have we gained? We are raising a generation which is afraid of the 'wild' because we have never taught them to enjoy it. And, we have created more 'wild' areas which won't be used (they are to foreign to our children) by the vast majority - and we've closed them to the generation who still remembers and would use them (our parents' generation).

I'm beginning to wonder if our future problem isn't the urban sprawl which is eating up our rural lands - but the great dichotomy which we are creating. The asphalt and concrete world where our children feel comfortable, and the 'wild' places we are protecting. From whom? For whom?

Lady of the Lake

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