The Second Half: A healthy dose of nature

June 30, 2010

By Kathleen D. Tresemer
Columnist

Lynda Gibson Johnson is a Second Half gal whose background is in sharing the wonders of nature with others: kids, teachers and even writers like me. I had the opportunity to visit with her at a recent Rockford Writers’ Guild event, held at Alpine Park in a nice shelter house on a beautiful day in June.

Lynda’s first question to a bunch of writers: “How many of you have read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv?”

Amazing and unsettling, not a single writer/reader in the group had heard of the book. After the meeting, I went home and checked it out, visiting the author’s Web site (http://richardlouv.com/). This is the basic blurb about the book that I found:

“The recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, Richard Louv identified a phenomenon we all knew existed but couldn’t quite articulate: nature-deficit disorder. Since its initial publication, his book Last Child in the Woods has created a national conversation about the disconnection between children and nature, and his message has galvanized an international movement. Now…we have reached a tipping point, with the book inspiring ‘Leave No Child Inside’ initiatives throughout the country. Hailed as ‘an absolute must-read’ by the Boston Globe and ‘too tantalizing to ignore’ by Audubon magazine, Last Child in the Woods is the inspiring work that proves children need nature as much as nature needs children.”

The author claims recent research supports his theory, that lack of direct contact with nature is connected to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and that statistics show children who play in nature perform better at school.

Living in the woods myself, I would be the first person to claim we all need a little less technology and a lot more nature. It isn’t much of a guess that walking on a treadmill has replaced a walk in the woods, and watching TV has taken the place of watching a sunset for most families in America.

“Nature-Deficit Disorder,” I thought to myself. “How many of us in our Second Half may be suffering from this syndrome?”

I wondered about the symptoms of NDD, and, after Googling a bit, came up with the following indicators that could be applied to adults:

→ A disconnect with, or fear of, the natural world including forests, weather, bugs and animals;

→ A stunted curiosity, once expressed in the form of hands-on participation in personal growth or learning and replaced by the computer or media;

→ Increased obesity and health problems related to lack of exercise and fresh air;

→ Increased depression and anxiety from over-exposure to stressors; and

→ Loss of creativity and inspired or meditative thought.

Assaults by tree limbs notwithstanding, my family would agree we have all benefitted over the years by our closer walk with nature. In fact, I think more exposure is even better! I am making a concerted effort to expand my forays into the great outdoors, especially since I spend so much time with my computer these days.

But maybe you are thinking to yourself, “Wow, I may have a touch of NDD! What should I do about it?”

You might explore Attention Restoration Theory (ART), developed in the 1980s by environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. According to Wikipedia, their book The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective claims that: “…people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature. Natural environments abound with ‘soft fascinations’ which a person can reflect upon in ‘effortless attention’, such as clouds moving across the sky, leaves rustling in a breeze or water bubbling over rocks in a stream. (It) has since been found by others to hold true in medical outcomes as well as intellectual task attention…”

(Check it out at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention_Restoration_Theory)

While ART has uses in architectural design and environmental psychology, I’m looking at a simpler approach. My recent declaration: “Take a walk outside!”

Back to Lynda Gibson Johnson, our Writers’ Guild speaker and great resource for addressing our tendency toward Nature-Deficit Disorder. Lynda has made a career out of educating kids about the world outside: as education director at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, at the Natural Land Institute, and with her husband, Lee Johnson, at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory.

Lynda suggests something simple for those of us in our Second Half, “Try nature journaling!”

She helped to explain what nature journaling is, and I think I’ve got it:

1. Get a notebook you like—any size, lines or no lines;

2. Write your observations and experience outside, including how they make you feel; and

3. Include sketches of things in nature, even if your artwork stinks.

Lynda declared: “Here are the Rules for Nature Journaling: No cell phones, MP3 players or electronics; no multi-tasking; listen…really listen; and FOCUS!”

Lynda had some helpful tips for those who struggle with focus: “Take a piece of string, tie it in a circle the size of a dinner plate, and set it on a bit of ground that appeals to you…then sit quietly and write what you see.”

Sounds like good “brain exercise” to me, another plus for those of us in our Second Half.

So, quit suffering from the symptoms of NDD—pick up your journal, put on your walking shoes, get on your bike or take out your canoe. A rich dose of oxygen and vitamin D might even improve what ails you.

Besides, getting dirty—especially with a friend—can still be lots of FUN!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue

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