Thursday, April 03, 2008

Gulf Breeze

Seashell on Beach
Photographic Print

We've recently returned from a road trip and vacation to Gulf Breeze, Florida. This was my first trip south and what a delight it was! Somewhere in southern Missouri we drove through an invisible doorway into spring, leaving the barren trees and cold dampness of winter behind. We drank in the sight of daffodils, pansies, azaleas, and as we continued south I had my first glimpse of Spanish moss and wisteria. Normally, one experiences the delights of springtime unfolding slowly and almost imperceptibly. To suddenly be thrust into the glory of the season is a whole different experience--exhilarating to the senses!

Gulf Breeze, on the Florida panhandle, is situated on Fairpoint peninsula and boasts eighteen miles of waterfront. The pristine, sugary white sand beaches beckoned us to leave schedules and cares behind and to devote ourselves to the leisurely art of beach bumming. We all got sunburns in spite of our spf 50 sunblock, but it was so worth it!

Hunting seashells is a delightful occupation. It is amazing how many of the designs reminded me of flowers. My daughter made the mistake of stowing one in her purse---ugh, the smell was NOT at all flower-like! Some of those shells still shelter little inhabitants.

For people of the plains, the waves were almost mesmerizing. I believe it was Willa Cather who compared the blowing grass of the prairie to the waves of the sea, and now I have validated that observation with my own eyes.

Today, it is typical that we learn about nature from books. It is infinitely more desirable to experience it tangibly, to smell the smells, to feel the grit between the toes, to hear the loud voice of the gull for oneself.

I read an editorial in yesterday's newspaper by Froma Harrop on this very subject. She mentioned the fact that attendance at America's national parks has been dwindling since 1987 and attributes it to "videophilia". You can probably guess the definition of that word: the love of electronic media. She goes on to quote author Richard Louv, who has coined a term for our modern nature estrangement--"nature deficit disorder."

Here is a quote from this same author:

"Today, kids can tell you anything about the Amazon rain forest but not the last time they saw the leaves move."

Adults need to watch the leaves move, too. I'm on a crusade against "nature deficit disorder." While a vacation affords a special opportunity to indulge in the wonders of God's creation, taking time to be outside regularly can be considered a vacation taken in increments. And those little moments give me renewed strength to go out with joy and be led forth in peace.


Mike Vandeman said...

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at

It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: "Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back." Then he titles his next chapter "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?" Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are "nature-lovers" and are "just hikers on wheels". But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It's not!

On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one's health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one's experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the "civilized" world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I've been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can't remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

It's clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.


Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier -- An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

Louv, Richard, Last Child in the Woods -- Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

Vandeman, Michael J.,, especially,,, and

Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

"The Wildlands Project", Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I am "re"-enjoying about the Pacific Northwest is that people really go outside here. All the time (even in the rain!) there are people out, walking dogs, taking bike rides, or just strolling. It is a way of life for many here, and one we have already begun embracing in a way that we didn't before. I think we took the natural beauty here for granted!

Anonymous said...

Is it so much being in "unchartered wilderness" as it is being away from technology and in a quiet place? I grew up on a farm and learned early on that while I could hike and fish and ride my horse, there were places I dared not to disturb. Now I am forced to live in an urban environment, and it is never where I would have chosen to raise my children, but I do give them free rein in the yard and think that is probably sufficient for our needs at this time. Would I prefer to live out in the country somewhere? Yes, of course! But it's neither practical nor possible at this time. My children will have to content themselves with our little garden patch and our bit of lawn. As long as they are outside quite often, instead of glued to an electronic gadget inside, I think we will be just fine.

Poiema said...

You're right, Amy, it's not the largeness of the space or the fact that the area is untouched wilderness. We don't have too many untouched spots in our yard. We are growing children, not grass! There will be time for neatly manicured perfection after they are grown up. Of course, we may just save the tree house for the grandkids :)