When was the last time you stood beneath the sky? Perhaps during a few hurried minutes between commutes. If you’re like most people, you didn’t even look up.
As a society, we have lost our connection to nature. It seems young people, especially, are deprived of connection to the natural world. Notable groups urge us to reconnect with nature. Which, really is where we belong. Too much time inside can have negative effects, both physically and mentally.
According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, students spend over seven hours a day using electronic devices. The same study claimed that excessive media use lowers grade point averages, and may be contributing to the epidemic of obesity. Is this a worthwhile way to spend our time?
The Journal of Optometry and Vision Science also found that those who spend most of their time inside tend to have poorer long-distance vision than those who spend more time outdoors.
To counter these negative effects of modern life, The National Wildlife Federation has launched a “Be Out There” program. It encourages children, and people in general, to spend more time playing outside. They state that less time in front of a screen will improve fitness levels, reduce ADHD symptoms, raise test scores, and lower stress. In fact, studies have shown that just looking at photographs of nature can reduce anxiety.
President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on April 16, 2010, titled the “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative. In the Memorandum, President Obama cited that among conservation efforts, his goal was to “reconnect Americans, especially children, to America’s rivers and waterways, landscapes of national significance, ranches, farms and forests, great parks, and coasts and beaches.”
There was once a time when nature was all there was. It wasn’t even that long ago. An excerpt from the introduction of author Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature- Deficit Disorder states that, “Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading.”
And as development, pollution and progress swiftly increase, so does our detachment from the natural world. We have come to view ourselves as completely separate from nature. This is not the case.
Our connection to all living things, to the Earth itself, is proven by science. The theory of evolution states that all life on Earth came from a single cell. We are technically related to every animal and plant that exists on this planet. Our human ancestors have adapted specifically to the Earth’s natural conditions, therefore, we are designed to live in nature. Perhaps we have lost some of the knowledge to do so in the past century, but not the physical capability.
Despite money and our convoluted societal systems, we still rely on the environment for our food and water. Money is only an extra step. The food chain, the water cycle and the sun are our true providers. We need to respect and protect our mother Earth. After all, we can’t live without her.
School is one of the greatest culprits in our detachment from nature. Since childhood, we’ve been forced to spend almost all day inside. Some classrooms don’t even have windows; we’ve been trapped in prison-like cells.
Curriculum could incorporate outdoor experiences quite easily. Anything can be tied to nature in some way. A love for nature will lead to the desire to protect it. The poetic flourishes of a leaf might be explored in English class, the angles of the sun in math, or the lifestyles of Earth-based cultures in history, but one must see it to truly appreciate it.
Whatever the means, an emphasis should be placed on the environment in all subjects, not just ecology or environmental science. Give us fresh air. Let us feel the rain upon our skin, and we shall be healthier and happier than ever before.
This mentality was shared by Joseph Knowles, author of “Alone in the Wilderness.” This long-lost novel chronicles the true story of Knowles’ two month experiment when he entered the woods of northern Maine completely naked. Alone, and without the aid of any tools, he lived off of the land just to prove it could be done.
Upon his return to civilization, he was physically stronger, wise in the ways of the wilderness and enlightened. His message to readers at the end of his journey was, “Let me appeal to every man, woman, and child to take advantage of the wonderful bounty that nature offers… let them understand the wild creatures, who have souls like themselves. Let them abandon all things artificial and really live. Let them answer the call of the natural mother—she has blessing untold to bestow. In a word, let humanity be born again.”
Stop leaning on luxury. Don’t place so much importance on electronics or money. In comparison to the boundless wonders of life, these things mean nothing. Erase the constraints set upon you by society— convenience, sloth, indifference. There’s so much you can learn from the life around you. Imminent voices are shouting in our ears… this is right, this is healthy. Visit nature at a park, on a camping trip, even in your own backyard. No image on a screen can replace the real thing.
A shift in the mindset of this generation is necessary. The world is alive, bright and vivid. Go explore it. See the great cedar trees that stretch into the clouds. Feel the cold water of a distant creek drip between your fingertips. Listen to the wind, the ferns, the owl. There is no better way to spend your time than where you were truly meant to be.