Go Outside

“You never get to point at a meadow full of browsing mule deer and say, ‘You know, all this was once condos.’” (John Gierach)

Still on a rant. It’s crawling around up and down my spine and making me itch crazily.

I know this is a lot about how I look at the world in my particularly off-kilter way. But largest place I ever lived was Slidell. It was a nightmare, and that was in the mid-1980s. I remember feeling claustrophobic and short of breath; worse, I lived in an apartment and that was sheer torture. In the end, and in hindsight, I realize I made excuses: My father had been diagnosed with heart disease and a touch of emphysema while I lived in Slidell, and I latched onto his failing health to flee the concrete, steel and throngs of harried, scurrying people.

And violence? My God. The violence of cities leaves me aghast. Even if I were never mugged, attacked by a mob of vicious thugs or carjacked, I’d die of anxiety. Nope. Not for me. No job over there pays enough. No teaspoon-sized yard can hold enough green, and no locked door is strong enough.

Look at what we’ve done out west to support cities. Look at all the water diversions constructed to feed places like Los Angeles. See what it’s done to the Colorado River. Appalling. No less, though, than what was done to the Atchafalaya River Basin, or the Kissimmee River. I often call myself a hypocrite when I see presidents using executive orders to circumvent Congress, because I recall that Theodore Roosevelt used that same tool to create many, many national forests, national parks and national monuments which otherwise would have been lost. I guess it’s true: Evil is subjective.

But it’s not just cities that have altered the psyche of the masses. Even here in the “country” we’re infected with what Richard Louv coined “nature deficit disorder.”

In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv quotes an elementary student he interviewed:

“I like to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

If that’s not terrifying, I don’t know what is.

Louv theorizes that ADHD, obesity, inability to pay attention, depression and stress are all caused by nature deficit disorder. And he says a healthy dose of outside play in green spaces goes a long way to curing those ills.

Can the same be said for adults? Louv thinks so. I’m sure of it. I know that a walk in the back of my house down to the bayou can knock a dent in the stark discomfort of concrete steel and glass.

His work in Last Child in the Woods led filmmakers to not only test but demonstrate the truth of Louv’s premise. Mother Nature’s Child features children from Vermont to Washington, D.C. brought afield and studied their reactions to it. The results were truly astounding: Kids plagued with behavioral and attention problems underwent an incredible transformation in the woods and parks and river banks.

So we beg the question: How do we fit outdoors time for our children into complex, over packed lives? How do we weigh outdoors time against the undeniable existence of criminals and predators?

As adults, how do we do it for ourselves? A crazed man assaulted a couple hiking on the Appalachian Trail recently. He told police he attacked them because they were young and looked well-off, so he figured they’d have some pot on them. They didn’t.

A woman was killed on a popular hiking trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains by a 61-year-old drifter.

The stories are out there, and they are frightening.

There must be answers, though. Especially for people like us, “country folks” who have all this natural medicine around us. There must be a way to surmount the fear, for our children and for ourselves.

At first, cities were formed and grew as a means of protection. Safety in numbers during the Middle Ages. Inevitably, the evil from outside spawned within, and cities have now taken the lead in violence and mayhem.

Which brings me back again to the point I made last week: We have to take back our communities, whether urban or rural or somewhere in between.

Community churches, schools and parks are absolutely essential. We have to stem the tide of mega-mall schools and centralized parks, and we have to keep the thugs out of them by whatever means necessary. Government must stop whining about budgets and get the job done in terms of law enforcement. The old standards still are valid: A cop on the beat walking the business district; a library in every section of the city; a presence of law officers everywhere; and a school in every broad neighborhood, where the community can focus. There are a lot worse things we could spend our tax dollars on.

Because in the end, despite our egotism, religious tenets that give us “dominion” over the natural world and our fears, we are creatures of nature. I truly believe we cannot thrive without it.

1 comment to Go Outside

  • Well done – as usual.
    Suggestion: rather than writing books, why don’t you see about getting syndicated and spread the word beyond the choir-loft? Some of the “columnists” in BR, Laf, and S’port, for example, are so only in name.
    Just don’t mention “the crick” too often, “for Pete’s sake!”

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