Children of the Universe

When I’m outside, my mind both calms and awakens.

At least that’s the way I perceive it, and it seems I’m not alone.

According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, “Over one hundred studies . . . confirm that one of the main benefits of spending time in nature is stress reduction.” 

This may seem obvious to those of us who regularly search out solitary moments in nature, but it is not obvious to everyone.

Observing tadpoles such as the one pictured above developing into frogs and walking horned toads on leashes of string were rites of passage for kids of my generation.  Now I not only grieve that horned toads are no longer as common here in the Texas hill country (I took the following photo in New Mexico), but I also fret that today’s youngsters experience much less time in nature.

horned toad-001

In his book’s epigraph, Louv quotes a youngster who says he enjoys playing inside more than outside because that’s where the electrical outlets are.  Contrasted with this statement on the epigraph page are poignant lines from Walt Whitman which begin:

There was a child went forth every day,/And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became . . .

The poem continues:

The early lilacs became part of this child,/And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird.

I have to wonder whether today’s children are “becoming” Whitman’s “song of the phoebe-bird” or Angry Birds.

Throughout his book, Louv cites research that shows the importance of direct exposure to nature in the healthy physical and emotional development of children.  He also shares copious evidence that a disconnection with nature may be linked to the problems of childhood obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

In my bones, I know that in my own childhood wanderings on foot and on horseback, I found a healing, calming connection to the land around me, to the birds and the water and the grass.  As Louv says, “Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity.”

That echoes for me the soothing reminders of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata (a prose-poem written in 1927):

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence . . .

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

*                            *                         *                          *

The publication of Last Child in the Woods helped spark a movement to encourage interaction between children and nature.

For more information about how we can make a difference, visit Children and Nature Network at http://www.childrenandnature.org.

*                             *                         *                          *

Writing Practice:

Complete the following:   Go ___________ amid the ____________.

What specific things calm you?  Do you know children or adults with whom you might share these?

6 thoughts on “Children of the Universe

    • Hi, Joe! Thank you for reading and sharing your “writing practice” responses. I love your phrasing and also the reminder that music has the power to calm. I’m envious of those who have knowledge of and talent for music.

    • I am so impressed with Richard Louv and his work. His choice of the juxtaposition of Whitman’s poetry and the quote from a 4th grader as epigraphs really caught my attention. Thank you for reading and commenting, Vicki.

  1. I remember laying in bed at night listening to a Crickett frog concert with the smell of gardinias under the windows. Before AC you smelled that dusty smell right before the rain came, then the smell of lightening. I recall Tourned toad appearing again as sign of summer coming. We are inside now to avoid the elements and miss the sound of the wind in the leaves. I use to hear the earth breathing. Now I hear the compressor kick on

    • What a lovely and touching description. I confess to loving air conditioning, but I remember with fondness the sounds of those summer nights of childhood. Thank you, Linda, for your thoughtful comments.

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