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Author Richard Louv focuses on adults in "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age," a sequel to his widely acclaimed "Last Child in the Woods."

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The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age

By Richard Louv


book cover with photo of a leaf

The cover of The Nature Principle by Richard Louv


Many of us have read Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv’s groundbreaking and widely acclaimed book about overcoming “nature deficit disorder” by getting kids outside more. That book struck a chord with so many trail advocates who love the outdoors and lament that a lack of appreciation for nature may be an unfortunate outcome of a pervasive addiction to electronic gadgetry, of the apparent preference for virtual reality over actual experience.

The problem is exacerbated by urban parents who keep their children indoors, fearful of what lurks outside, unwilling to let them play and explore in unsupervised ways. Consequently, kids seem overly programed and time controlled, missing vitally important contact with natural experience. Louv believes this denies them meaningful opportunities to learn on their own, maybe get dirty and even take a few exploratory risks by themselves or with friends--like many of us did before TV and i-boxes and smart phones became omnipresent.

Now comes a worthy sequel: The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. The new book is equally compelling, loaded with revelations and insights and offering timely remedies for the pervasive malaise Louv identifies. He focuses more broadly on adult culture, which he finds every bit as problematic. Here are some of his key points:

• We need better “biophilic” design so that natural features are built into our homes and businesses and communities. Where those are lacking in existing structures and urban environments, we need to find ways to “re-nature.”

• Food production needs to be integrated so that vacant lots become community gardens; local farms with healthy produce should be supported along the lines of the "slow food" movement; buildings could include vertical and rooftop planting spaces (as well as solar panels); schools need to include opportunities to learn from and connect with nature perhaps starting with getting kids involved with creating gardens that provide produce for their cafeterias; and honoring the growing rediscovery of home gardens.

• He suggest ways we can engage nature at every turn, so that, for example, we come to appreciate even wild animals nearby and consider replacing irrigated lawns with draught resistant native plants. Bringing the outdoors closer to home contributes to living more sustainably.

• Louv believes a sense of place is crucial. He describes his own discovery of the place he lives in San Diego, learning the special and often subtle connections possible when he took a really close look into his own backyard and the surrounding spaces that tend to be ignored when our attention is absorbed by only the built environment and by our omnipresent gadgets.

• In our fast paced lives, distraction and multi-tasking keep attention so captive that we risk becoming blind to underlying aspects of the natural world that surround us. Cyber space relegates open space leaving us, he believes, with a sense of something missing, “deficit disorder” we may not fully comprehend.

• He’s not a Luddite, mind you, just an advocate for balance so that a nature perspective is more likely, more a part of on-going experience. He foresees the possible emergence of what he calls the hybrid mind through a combination of natural and virtual experiences.

• He talks much about the health benefits of nature. He mentions an International Association of Ecotherapy for therapists who prescribe walks in nature as a treatment regime. He cites an Australian study, for example, which found a 36% reduction in dementia in patients who spent more time outdoors.

Louv also mentions the Little Rock Arkansas Medical Mile Trail that offers health advice along the route and ends in a nearby kids park with hills to roll down and tunnels for crawling. (He visited these places while attending our American Trails Symposium at which he delivered the keynote address.)

• He mentions many cities that have had the foresight to build greenbelts with trails that connect parks and unban spaces. He cites a wealthy benefactor in Georgia who has established a new suburban community, Serenbe, “organized around principles of land preservation, local food production, energy efficiency, walkability, clustered buildings, arts, culture, community, and most of all, immersion in nature.”

I learned so much from this book and felt a need to share his perspective with friends and colleagues who also are passionate about the importance of spending time in direct touch with the natural world. They honor trails and outdoor education as personally and environmentally valuable. They behave in ways that incorporate and protect wild places, which they see as key ingredients of a sustainable life style and planetary benefit.

To those who may not initially share this passion, I think you will gain an important understanding that might open you to living closer with nature.

The Nature Principle is truly a valuable guidebook for deepening such journeys, and I urge you to read it with intention and respect. He connects the dots, extends the same keen touchstones of awareness and unflinching insight so many of us resonated with in Last Child in the Woods. I think of Richard Louv as a kind of wise and learned pied piper, helping to redress a serious social imbalance, identifying what we have neglected and toward which we need to soulfully re-connect.

I’ve been directly involved over the past two years in a movement in my town (Redlands, CA) to promote sustainability. We have created a Network of citizens who want to learn ways to act individually and collectively toward reducing our carbon footprint and promoting the local economy and healthy life styles. Sustainability is our mantra, an ethos we want to realize in our communities and neighborhoods and homes. Sustainability includes, at least in some measure, preserving open spaces, getting outdoors to recreate and touch into what nature portends. This includes promoting non-motorized modes of transportation, including on trails and bike lanes.

Louv would have us go further “beyond sustainability to the re-naturing of everyday life.” He thinks the more technology we employ— technology that takes over our work and leisure time— the more we need contact with nature as a kind of balancing of energy and creative impetus.

I could not agree more.

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