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Nature Deficit ...Not

Over 30 years in human services working for and with people with developmental disabilities.

No More Moving

My parents blew through many bustling, enterprising cities on their many moves from California to Florida. They stopped moving in a town of less than 3,000 people in 1954. .

My mother told me it was she who put her foot down and said she was not moving anymore. With the purchase of a house she told my dad she was not going to move again. It was a 900-foot, three-bedroom, one-bath, wood-framed house with jalousie windows, green shingles, and a single car carport. The foundation of the house was three rows of cinderblocks. Before the house was finished the creek across the street crested its banks and flooded the house, but that did not stop my mother from moving her family in.

Nature Filled

Not only was the creek across the street, up the street, four houses away, was the railroad tracks and a trestle. They drew my childhood friends and me like a magnet. On hot summer days when the creek was low we would gather on the large rocks under the shade of the trestle and stick our bare feet into the creek. When the days were hot enough the creosote-soaked railroad timbers oozed a tarry smell into the air. The creek gurgling through the stones and the plunking of the smaller stones we aimlessly tossed into the creek would provide a backdrop to our meandering conversations. When the creek flooded its banks, hiding the large rocks beneath its brown water and almost touching the timber ties, we jumped from the trestle into the water repeatedly.

To change the pace of the day, we had inflated inner tubes that we would get on and float slowly down to the first road. Sometimes we stopped at the old oak tree that had a huge branch hanging over the creek. We would pull our inner tubes out of the water, scramble up the rough bark tree in our bare feet, slide along the branch over the water and jump into the creek.

Some days, to spark the adrenaline, we challenged each other to run across the railroad trestle as fast as we could. The railroad ties were 12 inches by 12 inches and evenly spaced. It was a game of careful calculation and daring. While going as fast as you could, you had to coordinate your feet, so they caught each tie and not the space between. All the time you ran, you wondered where the train was at that moment.

Then the day came when I miscalculated. When my awareness caught up, my arms were stretched across a tie and my legs were dangling in the air below. I could not pull myself up nor could I let go and fall to the rocks far below. Fortunately, my friends were able to pull me up and help me hobble to solid ground before a train appeared. Bruised, jarred, and minus a significant amount of skin on my shins, I hobbled home to my father who tended to my injuries and sent me back out to play.

Our parents didn’t try to stop us. It would have been useless. We would have found a way. At least, they knew where to find us, and we were always home in time for dinner.

The Next Generation

I have gone back to my childhood playground and am surprised at finding the creek, trestle and woods that my friends and I roamed much smaller than remembered. Now, I realize it doesn’t take much space in nature to fill a child’s imagination.

In 2005, when Richard Louv published his book, Last Child in the Wood, there was growing concern about children being plugged into television and video games to the extent that they were losing their connection to the natural world. Louv was concerned that people, especially children, were spending less time outdoors in unstructured play. To address this concern, in 2016, Louv published, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to A Nature-Rich Life, a guidebook for parents who are eager to share nature with their kids. He also wrote the forward to Angela Hanscom book, Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children.

I wonder how I am going to create moments for my first grandchild to benefit from interaction with nature. I doubt in this modern age I will be comfortable giving him or her as much freedom as I had. But, I have plenty of time to figure this out. I can hardly wait.

© 2018 Kathy Burton

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