Today, I woke up in the Rachel Carson lodge. There was a copy of “Silent Spring,” a book that inspired my environmental ethics and activism and significantly redirected my path in life, on my nightstand and a photo of its author on the wall above my bed. Carson’s work, which awakened a generation to the dangers of pesticides, led to the banning of DDT and eventually the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Birds are chirping again, at least here at the Children & Nature Network’s 6th annual Grassroots Gathering being held at the Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. During the gathering I was honored to hear from Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle” and founder of the Children & Nature Network. Louv awakened a new generation to “Nature Deficit Disorder” (NDD) or today’s “Silent Spring,” a spring (or summer in this case) void of the joyful sound of children laughing, yelling and playing in nature.
We’ve just wrapped up three days of truly inspirational sharing and strategizing around solving NDD and connecting children and families to the natural world. I have had the chance to hear from experts on the ground, to better understand grassroots struggles and successes. I have learned about efforts to establish natural play spaces and playgrounds. I even got to see one for myself – NCTC’s day care has a brand new natural playground, replete with tree houses and natural building blocks. Lucky kids.
I’ve been inspired (again) by Outdoor Afro, run by Rue Mapp, a social community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another, and other efforts to ensure that opportunities to connect with nature reach all kids and all communities. I was reminded by Suz Lipman about the importance of slowing down and I’ll soon be checking out her new book “Fed Up with Frenzy.” Betsy Townsend shared with me some great progress being made across the state of Ohio to get kids outdoors. Cheryl Charles and Richard Louv inspired me to think about a connection with nature as a fundamental human right. Fran Manilla told me of the challenges she faced as the first female National Park Service Director. And, Robert Bateman reminded me of why I LOVE painting birds.
The Natural Leaders gave me hope. Sierra Club supported the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Network (directed by Juan Martinez, Sierra Club volunteer and more recently board member of the Sierra Club Foundation) through its inception. I love watching the network grow and evolve to empower a worldwide youth movement to strengthen the bond between children and nature. The network is hosting its first Legacy Camp this week, where the core Leaders will convene and inspire a growing movement of millennial leaders. I got to speak to the Natural Leaders about some of the national advocacy efforts underway to grow opportunities for kids to get outdoors, including some of the progress being made by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK). And later in the week, our very own Inner City Outings leader, Matt Browning will train other Natural Leaders to lead outings for kids.
My second time attending the Grassroots Gathering, I leave reinvigorated and ready to work even harder to make sure all children have nature in their lives. This month (starting tomorrow), we are partnering with the Children & Nature Network’s Serve Outside September (SOS) to encourage everyone to serve outdoors this month (and every month). Given the growing divide between kids and nature, even taking a kid outdoors counts as service in my book. Heed some wise words by Rachel Carson and connect a kid with nature today, “If a child is to keep 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.”