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The Joys (Not!) of Nature
The Joys (Not!) of Nature

“So, what are we supposed to do?” My 13-year-old daughter mumbles the question. It’s a fresh, almost-summer day and we’re parked at the entrance to Den Rock Park, car doors flung open as we wait for the others. She and her friend slump in the back seat of my car, noodling on their electronic devices.

“I’m going to take some pictures,” I say. “You’ll come along and enjoy being outside in nature.”

“But how long is the hike?”

“You said you wanted to be models, right? So, just act. Act like you’re enjoying yourselves.”

More cars arrive. Younger children spring out and launch themselves up the rocky path, a parent chasing behind. Another young teen meanders over to us with her mother. The three girls eye one another. If I read them right, all their glances say "I wish I were doing something else, preferably indoors."

We share bug spray, lock up our cars, and enter the trail. The terrain is easy. It’s not a long hike to the large rock formations we came to see—in fact, once we wind around to the top of the rocks, our view includes the parking lot at the trail head and a T.J. Maxx store across the highway. The young people climb, touch, and contemplate various rocks on command and I take lots of pictures. Within minutes, even the three girls have gotten into the spirit of exploring rocks, almost in spite of themselves. They marvel at the boulder suspended above them, resting its sides on the two opposing walls of a rock “chimney.” I have to instruct them to turn their faces a little toward me, for a photo.

In the car going home, I ask my daughter how she enjoyed being with the rocks. “I wasn’t able to enjoy nature, at all,” she says. “I was too busy trying to keep nature away from me. There were so many bugs! Disgusting.”

She may be tweaking me a bit (that’s what she does, at this age). She’s also being honest. Insects have always wildly repulsed her and her mosquito bites can swell to the size of golf balls. That’s okay. I do not respond. I’m anticipating the photos I’ve taken. I know they will also tell a truth.

Next Steps!

Read Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods (2005), which introduced the term “nature deficit disorder.” Louv’s website is rich with suggestions for experiencing and teaching appreciation of the natural world.

The UUA Bookstore offers: Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World, by Amy Seidl (Beacon Press, 2010); Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, by Michael Lanza (Beacon, 2013); and the illustrated workbook Journey for the Planet: A Kid’s Five Week Adventure to Create an Earth-friendly Life, by David Gerson.

In the Tapestry of Faith program World of Wonder (grades K-1), the Session 1 story, “The Grumpy Gecko,” illustrates nature’s symbiotic relationships via a dung-rolling beetle, a wise tiger, animal poop, and more! Activities explain how to make paper geckos or beaded geckos. Also see this curriculum’s resource list.

Tapestry of Faith curricula also include two ecology-focused multigenerational programs, Gather the Spirit (focused on water stewardship) and Circle of Trees. Browse activities and “Taking It Home” sections online; you will find many ideas for acquainting young people with nature’s creatures and environments.

Check out the Children and Nature Network (Richard Louv, Chairman Emeritus) and Nature Rocks, a program of The Nature Conservancy aimed at inspiring families to explore nature.

Linda McGurk blogs as “Rain or Shine Mamma,” with the tag line “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.”

About the Author

  • Susan Lawrence, Managing Editor, Lifespan Faith Engagement for the UUA and editor of the UU World Families section, has worked as a community media producer, a high school teacher, and a freelance writer and editor. Susan identifies as European Jewish and belongs to the Unitarian Universalist...

For more information contact callandresponse@uua.org.

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