Just when I thought we might have maxed out on syndromes and disorders — attention deficit disorder, highly sensitive persons, etc., yet another has shown up in the studio inbox. Among the forest of responses to my letter on trees, “Nature Deficit Disorder” was mentioned by several artists. As webmaster Andrew Niculescu has gone mountain climbing, Michelle Moore, a high school student who is helping in the studio over the summer, spent last Friday trying to sort your letters out. From every viewpoint, artists identify with trees, endow them with spirit, wish to honour them, and bemoan their loss. To many, they remind us of our estrangement from natural places.
Two months ago I was hanging out in Gorky Park in Moscow. Signs warned not to walk on the grass. Kiosks offered all manner of food and souvenirs, a Ferris wheel plied the sky, and beyond the manicured trees, buildings, like those around Central Park in New York, watched. As the kids were screaming up and down the pathways in front of me, I asked, “Where’s the nature?”
Journalist Richard Louv has given this condition some thought. In his book Last Child in the Woods, he notes that sensationalist media and paranoid parents have scared kids out of the woods and fields. Safe, regimented sports are favored over imaginative play. Kids may know about the Amazon rain forest’s endangered species, but have little or no personal contact with the world of nature. Technological advances, while opening up a wealth of virtual experiences to the young, have kept kids indoors. In his research, Louv found a growing body of scientific research that suggests children who are given early exposure to nature thrive in intellectual, spiritual and physical ways that others do not. By reducing stress, sharpening concentration, and promoting creative problem solving, play-within-nature is emerging as a promising therapy for some current childhood conditions. A dose of nature is what kids need. He also notes that considerable harm has already been done.
It’s my take that nature-oriented media helps kids of all ages to inhale the outdoors. The quality of this stuff is getting better and better, but we have to remember that it isn’t the real thing. Nevertheless, through sensitized vision, the artist draws attention to our greater universe — and to the magnificent diversity and specificity of the wild kingdoms. Step outside. We are needed.
PS: “Families too can show the symptoms — increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, feelings of not being rooted in the world. So can communities, so can whole cities. Really, what I’m talking about is a disorder of society.”
(Richard Louv as told to Sarah Karnasiewicz)
Esoterica: Artists are a bridge to the greater world of nature. Painters, photographers, filmmakers and writers can choose to be nature’s advocates. With increased urbanization, the inner city and the ghetto are the most in need of nature and the art of nature. A frog in hand breeds no evil. We artists work for a higher purpose. A remarkable film, The March of the Penguins tells the story of the Emperor penguin in Antarctica. The demonstration of tenderness, familial care, group cooperation and mutual well-being within the circle of life and death is a metaphor of what humanity might be. To be witness to this march is to begin to understand why we all must be one.
Batteries or string?
by Todd Plough, NY, USA
Two types of children occupy our world. There are those modern kids, the ones that rely on batteries or electricity in their toys to inspire some sense of interaction and stimulation. Then, there are those who only need a piece of string and their imagination. Some look for meaning outside of themselves, but the artists — no matter how young the seed — water their own roots.
Television may give knowledge about nature, yet it gives us no sense of it. Only humans try to sterilize life; everything else simply lives it. When we unplug from the wall we plug into creation. Maybe toy stores need to sell more string. Then we will know how to honour nature.
by Kim Power, The Hague, Holland
Every morning I take a walk with my dog in the park to get my daily dose of nature. All of Holland seems to desire natural beauty, but only when it is organized and planned. I have met a lot of children that fear true forests, the insects and hidden wonders. If we introduce nature to kids at a young age they might learn to love and respect it and, hopefully, future generations will recognize that we are stewards of this planet. I admire how you and other artists are instilling a love of nature through art. It is definitely one of my main themes in my own artwork.
Families bond in nature
by Lola Cornish
My current work involves encouraging children to turn off electronic devices and move their bodies in play. I am learning in my research that it is specifically that lack of play that causes many disorders. The brain simply needs movement in order to develop properly, and we don’t get that kind of movement sitting in front of the TV. For more on this, I suggest Smart Moves – Why Learning is Not All in Your Head by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. A study was done of well-adjusted families that found they were incredibly diverse. The only common denominator was that they all went camping together at least once a year. I assume that the connection to the natural and the connection to each other that occurs when the only distractions are natural ones are at the heart of this phenomenon.
Natural stress relievers
by Pamela Heyda, San Francisco, CA, USA
Nature gets into the soul of a person and opens doors to hidden parts of ourselves. We are connected to the land we were born of and in its presence lives inside of us. When I was 23 I went on my first backpacking trip (2 1/2 weeks) and haven’t been the same since. It had me constantly yearning for the smell of pine, the call of birds, fresh air, and the peace of being surrounded by so many living things. That yearning is so strong it can sometimes be painful. So, I take in little moments, like watching the delicate sparrows or noticing a powerful hawk circling above my head. Touching a wildflower that has grown through a crack in the sidewalk, or feeling the bay breeze on my cheek, and most powerful of all, closing my eyes and envisioning myself in a natural space. While I was stuck in traffic one rainy day, there it dawned on me that the rain is also falling on the Douglas Firs on Mt. Tam, 15 miles to the North. The image clearly appeared in my mind, I could smell it, feel it, and suddenly traffic didn’t seem to matter any more. Nature keeps me sane.
Steadiness of the seasons
by Victoria Witte, Bloomington, IN, USA
Staying connected with the cycle of the seasons and observing the necessity of waiting for the appropriate timing of events makes one more patient and less prone to force situations. It encourages us to let life play out at its own speed and rhythm. Being tuned in to the inherent steadiness of the seasons gives us as humans the reassurance that most events in our lives happen, not at random, but within a logical and sequenced framework. In many instances work within, rather than against. The inexorability of the turn of the seasons reminds humans of the brevity of life and the transitory nature of our plans and expectations. All are useful realizations which can help us in our daily lives and interactions with others.
Country life is good
by Fay Bohlayer, Dawsonville, GA, USA
I am a farmer as well as a painter, so it’s not strange that I love best painting farmland. I grew up playing in creeks, making tree forts and coercing my old pony to assume many roles I had seen played out in the Saturday a.m. western movies. After years in cities, being “educated,” “domesticated” and positively stifled with people, I fled back to the country. Today I rode at 6:30 a.m., penned calves, bushogged 3 acres, and have painted for 4 hours. Life is good.
Seasonal Distractive Disorder
by Lucy Adams
Just two days ago on the radio I heard about SDD — or Seasonal Distractive Disorder. Apparently SDD affects the productive output of people in the workforce as they become easily distracted by thoughts of more light and perhaps being in a boat on a lovely lake somewhere. I instantly wanted to know how I could acquire this disorder for myself. Perhaps it could be bottled and sold especially in those areas where technology abounds and people have misplaced their need for nature. Perhaps, I shall take myself for a walk in the forest behind my home — to listen to the birds, to watch the squirrels play and let myself become mesmerized by the way that the extra light dances through the leaves. Then to dream up thoughts of capturing all of this on canvas.
Nature – a worldwide treasure
by Alev Oguz, Istanbul, Turkey
Nature is luxury. I am living in Istanbul and can only stand by and watch how the buildings grow bigger everyday, like a living organism, eating up the space we breathe in. We are in such a rush that we cannot save some time to leave the crowded, noisy, tiring city. We do not have the time to relax in the woods. The Sunday traffic persuades me to stay in my quiet home. However, the Bosporus is a big relief. Even a 10 minutes walk by the sea recharges me fully. Preserving nature is the best inheritance for the next generations.
by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada
I walked alongside my father as he sowed the seeds in our Victory garden.
I honour his memory by planting my own.
We finger-painted, went swimming, biked and played outdoors until it turned dark.
Using the costumes from Halloween we wrote and performed plays.
We took our sketchbooks and butterfly nets on camping trips to the mountains.
Where we fed raspberry jam on toast to emerald hued beetles.
And I watched as my mother shooed away the bears from our picnic table.
The garden had been harvested and it was time for neighbours to gather for fireworks and a bonfire.
I collected coloured leaves.
The garden became a skating rink and Dad carved large blocks of snow so we could have an igloo.
We tobogganed on a nearby golf course.
We lived in the city.
Nature is our essence
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
If we are alienated from nature, then we are alienated from ourselves. I grew up at the edge of suburbia, near a lake and undeveloped woods in Rhode Island. I spent much time wandering and delighting in its beauty and life. I knew things like after it rained we could find salamanders under fallen trees and rocks. I knew all the subtleties of scents and sounds from season to season. I enjoyed walking barefoot all summer long. I somehow needed to find a way to give my children those experiences before it was too late. That is when I found a camp that was part of the Wilderness Youth Project. My daughters, 5 and almost 8 years old, were ecstatic about this camp that allowed them to indulge in the natural world with other children. These city kids had no trouble communing with their new environment. This camp uses nature to teach, calling it “Nature Based Mentoring”. They bring children and families in harmony with the natural world and with each other. They teach the children how to make pine needle baskets, bow-drills to make fire, and much more. It’s important to learn to respect nature instead of fear it. With this ease we have no need to be violent and it allows us to learn from nature. A book I highly recommend that can deliver an understanding of our connectedness with nature and its value is The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. I have always felt a connection with the outdoors, and a spiritual palmist once told me I was a tree in my last life! Makes you wonder…
A child of the outdoors
by Deb Marvin, Worcester, MA, USA
As a child, growing up in Vermont, I practically lived out-of-doors, even in the harshest winters. I could approach wild animals and sometimes even touch them. Those early years had brought out a love for the wild outdoors and the creatures that inhabited them. It is that world which brought out my artistic abilities.
A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to purchase a large parcel of woodlands on a small, undeveloped lake in Barre, MA. Aside from being amazed that such a place could exist so close to Boston, I have indeed found a haven away from the noise, etc. of everyday life. There is a rustic cabin (no electricity, running water, etc.), a small beach, and a whole world of trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, deer, many species of birds, etc. My husband and I love to sit on the beach at night with a bonfire going, looking at the billions of stars that can not be seen in the city, and listening to the barred owls calling one another. It is heaven. I have already completed a painting of a large and beautiful beech tree and have more paintings ideas developing. I could spend the rest of my life capturing the various plant and animal personalities, the varying textures that play so beautifully off one another – the list goes on. I hope I am not among the last “children in the woods” but one of those who will help bring them back to nature.
Utilizing stormy weather
by Raynald Murphy, Montreal, QC, Canada
At my plein air workshop this weekend it rained off and on. Rather than play safe, I opted to give my demo under an umbrella in front of a misty landscape. Participants watched under their umbrellas as I risked the mist hitting my paper – which it eventually did, creating a snow-flaked summer landscape. Rather than notice the lack of desirable weather, my guests realized that there is no excuse not to paint and draw outdoors regardless of the weather conditions. So to all of you who haven’t yet smelled the great outdoors, I second Robert by saying, “Step outside, you might just like it!”
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Moncy Barbour who wrote, “Woe to the child that has never climbed a tree to peer as a bird can see or what he or she could be!”
And also Rhonda who wrote, “Thank you for your wonderful letters for it really takes an artist to understand an artist.”