Nature deficit disorder

I’m of an age that never developed the habit of walking along with eyes glued to a smart phone. If I tried that now, I’d bump into everything. Segue to today’s younger set: kids never seem to trip over curbs or fall into open ditches, and they’re too young to suffer from L.E.S (“locked elbow syndrome”) on the arm that holds the device. Surely, they have guardian angels on duty (ones without phones to distract them from their winged vigil.)

During a recent forest walk, the family ahead of me was a case in point; two kids led the way, eyes glued to their phones, never once tripping over exposed roots. Had a black bear stood in the way, I’ll bet the children would have walked around it and kept going, leaving the puzzled bear to doubt its status as a forest celebrity. As for the children, they evidently suffer from a modern phenomenon called “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

N.D.D. may affect some adults too, as they wander through the great outdoors (and through life?) failing to see what’s in front of them while they stare at their phones. Makes me wonder: what’s so fascinating on that little screen? Does anyone else out there remember when we couldn’t talk on the phone any farther away than the cord would reach? OK, I’ll admit I own a tiny smart phone, but it remains in “off” mode unless I’m being car-jacked.

But I digress, and there’s some good news. Somehow, many kids ARE being exposed to the natural world, and our schools are helping. Example: One fall day our neighbors gathered to remove some young alders growing in our drainage ditch, threatening to disrupt the flow of rainwater. As one fellow started up his chain saw, a young boy came by on his bicycle and stopped, his eyes wide with astonishment. “You can’t take those trees away!” he said. “Didn’t you know? Trees are the lungs of the earth!”

After a long awkward silence, I asked “How to you mean, Kenny?”

“Well, see,” he answered, “trees breathe, sort of… and they live on the carbon dioxide that’s in the air. Then they breathe OUT the oxygen, which they don’t need. Hey, all the animals, us too, need oxygen!” he replied with an air of satisfaction in having explained our planet’s life processes to six speechless adults.

“N.D.D.” was coined by Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods,” its thesis being a growing lack of understanding of nature, “which hurts our families, our communities and our besieged environment.” Early education may be one answer to the earth’s environmental woes. Our schools are doing their job, but parents can help too. This time of year, it’s good to get outdoors and look around. Thankfully, we live in an area boasting plenty of trails snaking through healthy forests, waterways full of life, and skies still decorated by an amazing variety of feathered friends.

There are many things parents and family can do to expose their offspring to the natural world (without cell phones perhaps?), like exploring our forests with a field guide, taking a camping trip, getting kids involved in summer camp, planting a garden, watching nature shows on TV. (For hiking opportunities, Google “Trail Maps – Kitsap County WA”.) The more we experience and appreciate what we have left of the natural world here in Kitsap, the harder we’ll work to save it.