05 June 2013

La Belle's Hobby Farm: Discovering Richard Louv's "The Nature Principle"

For me, to be removed from the environment, not to be outside on a regular basis,
leaves me stressed, depressed, and generally unhappy.
~ Hilary Mantel, writer

Wednesdays I blog about gardening in general, and my sometimes comedic efforts at “Hobby” farming in particular.  The Favorite App theme post for the Blogathon will appear tomorrow. ~ MD



D
igging in the dirt, walking through the orchard on a breezy Saturday morning, reading a book in the shade of an centuries’ old maple tree ~ all these little daily conversations with nature and my intuitive connection to it, brought peace to my spirit, and fired my creativity. 

In addition, I could tell you what time it was, which direction the wind was blowing, or whether it was going to rain, all by stepping outside, sniffing the wind, or looking at the sky.  And I took all that for granted.  Then I moved to Northern Virginia in 2000.

And all those natural abilities completely eroded.

The Nature Principle
Richard Louv, in his book, The Nature Principle, calls this disconnect nature-deficit disorder, “an atrophied awareness, a diminished ability to find meaning the life that surrounds us…”  If not for the countless scientific studies he quotes, or my own personal experience of it, I might have thought he was making it up.

During my eleven year stint in NoVa, a part of me was consistently missing.  Although I had many good experiences during that time (including founding an arts organization and growing an unconditionally supportive group of close friends), my most creative moments were the weekends I spent in the country.

Mechanical Time vs. Biological Time
Ralph Waldo Emerson said of Henry David Thoreau: “He…would probably out-walk most countrymen in a day’s journey…The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing.  If shut up in the house he did not write at all.”  We do something similar when we say “I’m going out to get some fresh air, clear my head.”  Louv says doing so stimulates our creativity because we are no longer dominated by what an Australian study termed “mechanical time;” rather, in nature, we are guided by biological time.

Because let’s face it: there are dates, deadlines, and rules that need to be followed when gardening.  Plant sugar snap seeds in May in Virginia, and you’re lucky if you get a plant at all, but forget about it producing any peas!  But follow nature’s time table (late March, early April), and you reap a bountiful harvest.

The point is, it’s a natural rhythm, one that (once you re-learn as I did) is closer to our own biological rhythms.  That’s why this year, although I did race a little to get everything in the ground in time, I’m more laid back about continuing to plant while harvesting the early crops.  I’ve settled into a comfortable rhythm that works with nature, not against it.

Outdoor Activity = Active Imagination
One of the best lines in the book so far (and I’m not even half way through it yet), is Louv’s conversation with his sons regarding how their generation was so advanced because the constant use of technology had rewired their brains.  Louv’s response?  “my generation had said something similar about drugs, and that didn’t work out so well…”

My friend Anne is reading something similar.  In her post today, she talks about Anthony Esolen’s Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination.  Method Number One is Keep Your Child Indoors as Much as Possible, or They Used to Call It Air.  When I was growing up, my mother encouraged all of us to spend as much time outdoors as possible.  If we weren’t making mud pies, or grass “salads,” we were setting sail in our leaf boats, or trekking through the cow pasture to pick blackberries on hills that we defended against the enemy, or hearing fairy song by the stream in the woods. 

All three of us were voracious readers as well, and were always able to tell or act out stories.  And yes, we had a television, but our watching was very limited, while our reading and outdoor play was not.  The time spent outdoors contributed to our creativity.  But there’s also a more practical benefit to spending time outdoors.

Outdoor Activity + Active Imagination = Lives Saved
Louv mentions an eighteen month study conducted by the U.S. military “found that the best bomb-spotters were rural people, familiar with hunting.”  The most telling result of the research was the difference between these rural boys and their Game Boy-playing counterparts: 
Even with perfect vision, they lacked that special ability, that combination of depth perception, peripheral vision, and instinct, if you will, to see what was out of place in the environment.  Their focus was narrow, as if they were seeing the world in a set format, “as if the windshield of their Humvee [was] a computer screen.” 
 
Frontier Research
Louv admits that the “nature principle” is a frontier one for science.  But I can whole-heartedly agree, based on experience alone, that my body feels better, my heart is lighter, and my creativity flows freer, when I spend time outside.  Not to mention, my garden looks better too.

And now to go pull some creative weeds. . . .

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
You don’t have to live in the country to benefit from communing with nature.  We are a nation of many National Parks.  Get out to one this weekend!
All quotes are  from The Nature Principle, Richard Louv, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, © 2011

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