Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Good Old Fashioned Outdoor Fun

I gave my nephew a t-ball set for Easter. He's definitely a natural-born athlete with almost boundless energy, and loves nothing more than to be outside in the sun (or rain or snow or any weather really). Sunday was a mild, almost warm, early-spring day, and we spent almost three hours outdoors on Sunday batting around, digging with tractors, and chasing a soccer ball (and sometimes just each other). Although I have no real way to measure, I feel like that afternoon was as much of a workout as an hour on the elliptical machine or treadmill. And it was way more fun!

In several conversations that I've had lately with different people, a similar theme has come up. It has to do with spending time outside, and frequently a specific book is mentioned, namely, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The main idea is that kids need to spend more time outside in unstructured playtime, but I'd like to expand that idea to include adults, or at least, myself. I've never really considered myself an "outdoor" girl; as a child I would have said my favorite activity was reading (inside). But looking back, most of my childhood memories involved playing outside. We didn't have a television or computer, so there wasn't much to do in the house. My siblings and I and our friends ran all over our sprawling apartment complex and then later all over our small hometown. We built forts in the neighbor's backyard, dug snow tunnels, and had mud fights in the alley.

Sometimes I think I am too obsessed with counting minutes or calories burned in my workouts. I feel like they're too structured and I that's why I don't enjoy them much and therefore have less motivation. As an adult there are so many more demands on my time, so I try to squeeze things in, and I feel like I have to "make every minute count." It's so much more efficient to burn 300 calories in 30 minutes on the elliptical machine rather than a hour walking outside. But is the most efficient way always the best way?

The seasons are changing, the weather is getting warmer, and daylight saving time has made the evenings lighter longer. After being cooped up all winter, I'm really looking forward to being able to spend time outside again. And this year, I want to really spend time outside--go for bike rides, play tennis at the park, go for long walks, play soccer/baseball/frisbee/whatever with my nephew. I want to workout, without feeling like I'm working out. Mostly I just want to have more fun.

Does any of this make any sense? It's late and I'm just rambling now. The picture is of N with his new t-ball set. Isn't he cute! He calls the tee a "skeeter." I have no idea where he got that; he just said it when he opened the box and it stuck. He's got a pretty good arm and can really send that ball flying. He just needs to work on the concept of aiming. I'm not very athletic or coordinated, but it's fun playing with a three-year-old because at least I'm a little more so than he is. Is that wrong to say?

5 comments:

Jennifer said...

I'm also looking forward to being outside during this time between the freezing cold and blistering heat. We should get together for tennis again - we might even improve if we played more often. I know what you mean about playing with little kids - my sports skill level is usually exceeded by the time a kid turns 10, so I like to play with little kids too before they realize how bad I am at sports skills.

deanne said...

You're such a good aunt!

5k Karrie said...

I agree -- working out outside is so much more fun. It's like playing. I will have you over this spring/summer to play "big-man-volleyball" it is a laugh riot that can only be explained in person. And a great workout.
You guys look so cute in your photo.

Mike Vandeman said...

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: "Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back." Then he titles his next chapter "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?" Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are "nature-lovers" and are "just hikers on wheels". But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It's not!

On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one's health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one's experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the "civilized" world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I've been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can't remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

It's clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.

References:

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier -- An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/ecocity3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/sc8, and http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/goodall.

Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

"The Wildlands Project", Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Abstract:

It is anthropocentric thinking, and irresponsible, to promote the invasion of wildlife habitat without considering: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

5k Karrie said...

ummmm... who is this guy reading your workout blog??? I wonder if he uses his public library... they would love him at the bethany booktalk!