One of the highlights of my trip to Aullwood was getting to spend a little bit of time with Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. His book is a review of the importance of nature experiences for the development of children, and how Americans are losing those experiences and kids are suffering "nature deficit disorder" because of loss of accessible natural areas and increasingly indoor suburban lifestyles. While playing with some box turtles at the Aullwood center, Richard told a few of us about his experiences with box turtles as a kid.
Before I was a bird guy, I was a ten year old wannabe herpetologist. We didn't really have turtles in Western Oregon, but we had a fair number of frogs, salamanders, and a few lizards and snakes. I spent hours and hours searching for them, dreaming about them, drawing them...basically eating, breathing, and sleeping them for a couple years starting in fourth grade. I eventually moved on to birds (more variety, larger support group, etc.), but still have a fondness for our little cold-blooded neighbors.
Environmental educators speculate about how important it is for kids to have good experiences with nature. I can trace my own career path as an environmental professional) back to those childhood moments, and so can many others. But how many of the other kids that were out catching snakes with me now think twice about animals or the environment? Experiences with nature would seem to be a necessary, but not sufficient, determinant of favorable environmental attitudes.
For me, life without birds, herps, and nature is only a pale shadow of a life. Going day to day without birds is like watching black and white television. Or like eating fat-free salad dressing. Like living in Plato's cave. I've gotta have my bird fix to make it through the day. Recently, my day to day birding has left me feeling a bit malnourished. I need more outside time with birds to cure my own case of nature deficit disorder.