I read in a local newspaper article this week that in order to care about the environment we at first have to learn to love it. The article also claimed that we are raising children with 'Nature Deficit Disorder'. Far too many children are not spending enough time climbing trees, smelling flowers, hiking up hills, picking berries and identifying plants and birds, and when they are brought up only to connect with things that entertain them like television and video games, they are disconnected with the 'hand that feeds them', meaning the earth.
Here in Canada we have a great tradition of camping out of doors as families, and of sending our children to summer camps. I spent two wonderful childhood summers attending a week-long Anglican summer camp with a friend. We learned to steer a canoe, make sand candles with recycled crayons, pound the picnic tables for food while singing Johnny Appleseed, use a map and compass, make a campfire and sing funny songs around it, and pray to God the creator on the top of a high bluff overlooking beautiful Garland Bay on the east shore of Kootenay Lake. My parents also took me on many an outdoor adventure in the mountainous, lake and river- filled place in which I grew up. By climbing mountains to pick wild huckleberries, swimming in the lakes and streams, and even walking the back alleys with my mother to peer at our neighbours' gardens and listen to her identify flowers and vegetable varieties, I learned to love the environment like I loved anything else good in the world. If I read in my OWL Magazine, a Canadian magazine for young naturalists, that discarded chewing gum might kill a bird which tried to eat it, I would be extra careful to wrap mine in its wrapper and put it in my pocket until I could find a trash can. 'All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wide and wonderful, the Lord God made them all,' was how I was raised to think about the environment, and I think, perhaps, we need to remember to give our children this same idea, if not in the same words, at least with the same approach. We need to develop a conscience and care in our children to consider each of their actions and how they affect the environment, and through the environment, their fellow, and future, citizens of planet earth.
Some dreamers talk of humans being able to live on Mars eventually. I have absolutely no interest in living on another planet. I really, really like this one. Words can not possibly do its beauty justice, especially at this time of year, with its blossoms and newly green trees, billowing clouds in the bright blue sky (when it has stopped raining, that is), and I cannot understand why anyone would want to desecrate it with garbage, toxins and other destructive ugliness. But, as I run the roads around my town, especially up the highway to the bridge which passes over the train tracks, I see a lot of garbage in the ditches. A lot of garbage. Everything from diapers to pillows, jackets, odd shoes, rubber car mats, coffee cups, liquor bottles, beer cans, fast food packaging, and sometimes even children's toys end up in the ditch. I imagine all the drivers who have thrown these things out of their windows so they wouldn't have to carry them to the nearest garbage can or dump, and I feel sorry for their lack of conscience and care. Granted, some of the stuff could have simply flown out of the back of some unsuspecting driver's truck, but surely not all of it?
This dumping of garbage in the ditches and rivers might seem minor compared to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico or carcinogenic toxins spewed into the air by chemical plants, but it does point to a lack of consideration for this planet and its people, and if we care to change the mindset of those who believe the earth is their garbage can, we need to start with the little things, not to mention the little people in order to make a difference. Everyone focuses on the need to look after the world for the sake of the children we will leave it to. Few mention the fact that our saving the planet will matter little if our children are not taught to keep on saving it. A previous neighbour of mine refused to recycle her cardboard, cans and bottles. "I can't be bothered," she would say. With all the information out there about landfills and toxins and the island of plastic in the ocean, and she could not be 'bothered'? She was a very nice woman, but I just could not understand her reluctance to take responsibility for her family's garbage. She was young, healthy, able-bodied, and owned a van. She even had a garage to store the recycling in until she had time and the inclination to take the stuff down the road to the recycling depot. She could have made recycling a family affair and have the kids help sort, and they would have learned something valuable in the process.
We are going to leave this world to our children, so we had better start giving them the idea that respect for the earth and its inhabitants starts with us, and it starts with them. We don't need to cajole or lecture or fill their heads with a lot of gloomy statistics, we simply need to take them outside and share the joy of nature with them. Outdoor experiences are free of charge for the most part. Especially in this part of the world, all we have to do is unplug and then open the door to the wonder of the world outside. And outdoor experiences can make a huge difference to children's lives. Once a child has been camping or has learned a skill such as building a campfire or reading a map and compass they become aware of their own abilities and gain confidence in themselves. And if camping is not an option, then a trip to the lake shore or a walk to a park that has unpaved trails and plenty of interesting plants and trees can also awaken the senses to the calming effect of nature and a desire to experience it more often and in a respectful manner. Children are natural sponges of information and sensory experiences; let's make sure that what they are absorbing is worthy of them and their future.
The photo above is a personal favourite. It was taken at Botanical Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and is of my husband and daughter examining a tidal pool. My husband, a city boy who grew up in Calgary, started his lifelong love of the outdoors during his family's annual two-week camping trips to Wasa Lake when all meals were cooked over the fire and entire days lived in the freedom of the outdoors. He spent a good part of his adult career working with kids and using an excellent book called Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.
I am working at the annual Tulip Festival these days, and it is heartening to see so many families coming out, even in the rain, to enjoy the flowers and play in the mud. One little girl came up to me, her boots caked in mud, and very proudly showed me her feet. Her face shone with delight as she said, 'You have some great mud here!'