When I was a kid, my sisters and I played in the woods behind our house. We explored, we set up housekeeping, we picked berries and we hunted tiny toads and then let them go. These woods seemed vast and deep though they were only a block wide. It’s hard to imagine today’s parents letting their kids run wild in this way, even so close to home. Many children’s lives are circumscribed by the indoors with few opportunities for experiencing nature.
In his new book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv, author of the groundbreaking Last Child in the Woods, broadens his appeal to explore how even adults need a regular dose of nature in their daily lives. It is vital, in his and others’ opinions, to maintaining good health. Long ago, that noted explorer of nature, John Muir stated, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
Calling nature, “vitamin N,” Louv cites a number of studies that demonstrate that we are in some way hard-wired in our DNA to be attracted to nature. “Regardless of culture, people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savanna, with its clusters of trees, horizontal canopies, distant views, flowers, water, and changing elevations.” And being and doing in nature are positive contributors to enhanced sensory perception, intellectual acuity, and good mental health.
Louv engages the reader with anecdotes and studies about the beneficial effects of nature on aging and health in general. Hospitals are incorporating gardens on their grounds and more physicians are writing nature prescriptions or recommending nature therapy. The city of Santa Fe, for example, created a Prescription Trails program to try to reduce the city’s high rate of diabetes. Doctors can prescribe trail time and refer their patients to a trail guide.
But besides being out in nature, Louv expounds on the how and why of trying to bring nature into one’s home and one’s office environments and the positive benefits. He also applauds the citizen science movement that enlists individuals (he calls them “citizen naturalists”) in making observations in nature and recording their findings. It seems fitting, then, that he mentions the Bay Area Ant Survey project at the California Academy of Sciences. On April 24, Richard Louv will be in San Francisco as part of the Academy’s Conversations at the Herbst Theatre. Come and hear how best to get your Vitamin N!