It seemed an odd juxtaposition: I left my home deep in the hills of West Virginia to drive to a major airport, fly several hundred miles and then go to a home in the suburbs. Yet around this home were deep woods with trees so tall I was awed--and I live in the woods. Green vines covered the ground, and the nature trails we walked often bordered a rippling brook with waterfalls and interesting rock formations. As we walked I saw familiar plants: spicewood, sassafras, cleavers, violets, jack-in-the-pulpit and many others. I broke a few spicewood leaves to inhale the strong perfume of this aromatic (and useful) plant. I found pokeweed ready for harvest and creasey greens long past eating but lovely with their yellow flowers. We saw a downy woodpecker feeding its young high in a dead tree and listened to the melodious song of the wood thrush. After each walk I returned to work relaxed, calm and somehow soothed by the time we'd spent in the woods.
Recent studies have identified a problem in our society that highlights the disturbing trend, particularly among younger generations away from nature and outside activities. We see it daily in our travels when we pass empty playgrounds and note the quiet suburban streets where there are no bikes, roller skates, swings and children's laughter echoing in the evening air. Children seem to prefer indoor pursuits these days and few can identify the plants and animals in the world outside their homes.
Most of us in the boomer generations have happy memories of playing outdoors, making bows and arrows from sticks and string, shooting the seed-heads of plantain, sucking honeysuckle blossoms and holding buttercups under our chins to see if we liked butter. We wore daisy chains and jewelweed earrings or made fairy gowns from hollyhock blooms. Some of us foraged for berries and nuts and others may have gone fishing or hunting. Others swam in a creek or river, swinging from a grapevine over the water. We caught bugs, tracked animals (even if it was the house cat), and spread blankets on the ground to watch the stars at night. On weekends we went on Sunday rides with our parents, taking along a picnic lunch to eat at some pretty spot along the way.
Many of today's children have little or no contact with nature outside of groomed lawns, mulch-covered playgrounds and perhaps during a zoo or park outing. This lack of connection to the outside world results in "diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of mental and physical ailments," according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, a study of almost 2000 children, published in 2008.
Storytellers have a role in reconnecting children to the environment. We carry stories, legends, and folklore that help explain the hows and whys of our world, and why the environment should be understood, appreciated and protected. Contact me or any other storyteller and find out how we can help you bring nature to your children in ways they will love and understand. Stories and nature: it's a natural!