The Joy of Nature

Richard Louv encourages children to experience the Joy of NatureI was still lost, deep in a much needed sleep, when I felt a gentle backward kick from my husband beside me.

‘He’s just rolling over,’ I thought, as I struggled to hang on to the last vestiges of the night. But then I felt another kick, a little harder this time.

“Why are you kicking me,” I mumbled, determined not to wake up any more than I had to. It wasn’t even light out yet. The alarm had not yet rung.

“Hootie’s outside,” he mumbled, still half asleep himself.

I lay still and I listened.

“Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo,” I heard faintly. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.”

And just like that, my thoughts turned from aggravation to elation.

Hootie is the name that we have given to a beautiful barred owl that lives on our property. And every time I hear him, I feel a sense of incredible wonder and awe. The sound was so faint that morning, I don’t know how my husband had heard it through his last moments of sleep. But he had. And knowing how it always made me feel, he wanted me to hear it too. It wasn’t even daybreak yet and already my husband was helping to fill my day with wonder.

I’m pretty easy to please, I guess. While some women want huge, polished gemstones, my husband could bring me home a gnarled old stick or a rock with colorful striations or a beautiful feather or seashell and they’d elicit just as many “ooohs” and “aahhs” from me as any store-bought bauble would bring.

He wasn’t t just showing me the beauty of nature when he showed me these things. He was showing me the part of himself that sees those things — the things that other people pass by without noticing. And he was showing me that he didn’t want me to miss seeing them, either.

When I was a sullen teenager, trying hard to be rebellious and moody and difficult, my mother would often call me outside to look at some beautiful aspect of nature. It was often a full moon or a starry night sky. She’d be outside in the garage, doing a load of laundry perhaps, and the moon or the sky would draw her attention. She was always so intrigued by the sight that she wanted to share it and she would come inside looking for someone to share the wondrous sight.

I’d reluctantly go out and take a quick glimpse to appease her, without even really acknowledging the beauty of the sight. But somehow that love of beauty snuck in.

Whether it was sharing walks on a shell strewn beach, long days spent quietly fishing by my father’s side, or lying in lawn chairs watching a meteor shower, both of my parents often took the time to point out the wonders of nature to me.  And that sense of wonder turned out to be the best gift they ever could have given to me.

Throughout my life, no matter what stresses or hardships I have faced, I’ve always known that all I have to do is walk outside and, without even really looking for it, eventually I’ll find something that will calm me right down. Maybe it’s a four-leaf clover at my feet or a northern parula sitting in a tree singing its heart out. Or perhaps, like today, a sky filled with hundreds of dragonflies crossing back and forth in search of airborne prey.

Nature has been my solace, my sanctuary and even my sedative at times, helping me through the times of turbulent teenage tears as well as times of more grownup grief.

So when I first read Richard Louv’s groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, about the causes and effects of a generation of children that seem to be terribly disconnected from nature, it wasn’t the physical health issues that really made an impression on me. It was the thought of an entire generation growing up without that sense of wonder.

Long before Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder”, naturalist Rachel Carson wrote about the importance of nurturing a sense of wonder in children in her 1956 essay entitled “Help Your Child to Wonder,” which was later published as a book entitled The Sense of Wonder.

 “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement,” Carson wrote. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder …. He needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Carson wrote those words in a simpler time, when there were still plenty of green spaces for children to play and no computers or other electronic toys to keep them inside.

To Louv, the problem has now reached a state of urgency.  And although “he would rather fish than write”, he has become a crusader for a cause that echoes the sentiments of Carson: we need to take our kids outside.

Both Carson and Louv agree that it doesn’t take a lot of time or an extensive knowledge of nature or wildlife to evoke a sense of wonder in a child. Just take them outside and encourage them to look.

“The young don’t demand dramatic adventures or vacations in Africa,” Louv said “they need only a taste, a sight, a sound a touch….to reconnect with that receding world of the senses.”

So  make it a goal to fill your days with wonders. Whether you are fishing, walking on the beach or working in the yard, encourage your children to get eye-to-eye with nature and discover something new. Explore the sights and sounds and smells around you and watch their sense of wonder bloom.


Bibliography and Resources:

Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv,

The Children and Nature Network: Building a Movement to Reconnect Children and Nature

The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson

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