An Appeal for Getting Out in Nature

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This weekend at Campiest my friend Lisa brought her 18-year old niece, Sam, with her. At one point in the weekend I told Sam that I thought it was awesome that someone her age was interested in getting outdoors. She’s totally stoked about learning to camp and backpack, and she even enjoyed sleeping in the tent over the weekend. The hiking club is made up of all ages, but I have to say that the demographic is toward the older end of the scale.

Sam ran into a couple of folks who managed a program at her school. As we were talking, one of them mentioned that there are a lot of kids these days that are afraid of nature. I’d never heard of such a thing. We are becoming more and more a species that lives their life inside, and, if outside, it’s in city parks that are pretty much devoid of animals and natural life. Nature is landscaped for most of the kids in this country.

I’ve been enjoying listening to the hiking podcasts that I recently found. I love living vicariously through this group of young people who are enthusiastic and addicted to thru-hiking on these long trails. I listened to one on Sunday about a thru-hike in New Zealand on The Trail Show. They weren’t all that happy with it because it required a lot of road hiking, and I wondered how many of these trails were really out in the wilderness. I’ve heard that the Appalachian Trail crosses right through towns, and there are times that you are literally crossing a highway. I know there must be real wilderness in some places, but have we lost vast expanses of wilderness to development? Have we lost so much that wilderness is really hard to find… even if you’re looking for it?

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Julian Price Memorial Park near Boone NC

 

I hit a deer one afternoon in Memphis that darted out from behind a health club. After hitting my windshield, he flew across the median and landed in the road. He fled after a few minutes, but I have no idea where he might have gone. He must have been terrified. A fox lives over by the LSU Lakes in Baton Rouge. I see him roaming the neighborhood on early morning runs. It absolutely breaks my heart that we are taking over the planet and not leaving room for animals and nature.

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The once plentiful but now extinct passenger pigeon.

I started reading Undaunted Courage. Descriptions from that era recount flocks of birds that literally darkened the sky as they flew over. The passenger pigeon was so plentiful that no one would have ever expected they would go extinct.

In May 1850, a 20-year-old Potawatomi tribal leader named Simon Pokagon was camping at the headwaters of Michigan’s Manistee River during trapping season when a far-off gurgling sound startled him. It seemed as if “an army of horses laden with sleigh bells was advancing through the deep forests towards me,” he later wrote. “As I listened more intently, I concluded that instead of the tramping of horses it was distant thunder; and yet the morning was clear, calm, and beautiful.” The mysterious sound came “nearer and nearer,” until Pokagon deduced its source: “While I gazed in wonder and astonishment, I beheld moving toward me in an unbroken front millions of pigeons, the first I had seen that season.”

~~ Why the Passenger Pigeon Went Extinct by Barry Yeoman

What has happened since the time I was a child, and there were wild spaces everywhere? I came back to Louisiana, and the state is trashed and littered with chemical plants and refineries. There’s hardly a green space where I can walk within an hour of the city. And there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort to take care of the rich, abundant wildlife and natural resources in this state. Many years ago I read Bayou Farewell, a book about the disappearing wetlands in Louisiana. The author, Mike Tidwell, spoke at an event my Mother attended, and  she said he lamented the fact that that no one paid any attention when he wrote the sad tale of what was happening to our marsh. He just knew someone would take it and run with it, but nobody cared. When I read the book, I was deeply troubled by what was happening, but I guess I thought someone would be working to remedy the situation. Apparently, the only thing that is important  in this state is money and industry. Nature is just something to use.

I stumbled upon a video the other day by NatureRx. This group of young people realized that nature had a marketing problem. They pooled their creative resources and started producing some videos that market the health benefits of being in nature.

I thought they were hilarious, but I didn’t realize until this weekend how much it was needed. There are children that are afraid of grass? Are there kids who will never get the pleasure of catching fireflies because they are afraid to go outside or – worse – they just don’t exist anymore? Is there a whole generation who have never had their breath taken away by the view from a mountaintop or the cold snap of a mountain stream? Will nature become the thing that is written about in history books but no longer exists for people to experience? The problem with nature is it needs space and room to breathe. You can’t just cram it into a city plan.

I am grateful to the National Park Service, our national forests, our trail organizations that maintain our national trails and the states that maintain state parks. If this land wasn’t already snatched up and set aside, I’m afraid we’d have nothing. The scary thing is that I feel like it happened while I wasn’t looking. I played outdoors as a child and lived in the country. Then I got busy with life and spent only intermittent time in nature on vacations and holidays. Now as I’m learning to love it and the stress-relieving benefits that it offers, I’m realizing how little space is left to enjoy.

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As I read Undaunted Courage, I’m getting a glimpse of what this country once was, and it’s horrifyingly scary how quickly it has changed. If we don’t have kids that feel the same passionate need for nature, what is to become of this earth? What is to become of the animals to whom God gave us stewardship? What is to become of the water we drink and the air that we breathe? We can’t manufacture that stuff. When it’s gone, polluted or unusable, humans are toast. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. I don’t know that I have any answers, but I think the first step might be to encourage people to get outside. For if we don’t know what there is to save, why would we ever have a desire to save it?

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