Help stamp out nature deficit disorder

Everyone thinks of a cubicle as a bad environment. It’s the butt of jokes on TV and in the funny pages.
Here’s the thing, though: My office is a cubicle. Your bedroom is a cubicle. A garage, a bathroom, Walmart, the grocery store — all cubicles.

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Keep that in mind next time you want to laugh at the poor Dilberts slaving away in office cubicles.
We’ve done it to our children, too. Classrooms, gymnasiums, lunchrooms. Cubicles, cubicles, cubicles. It’s crazy to do it to ourselves, but when we lock our kids inside, it borders on abuse.
Richard Louv, a writer who spent years interviewing people about their experiences in nature, thinks our estrangement from the outdoors has resulted in “nature deficit disorder,” which he blames for everything from ADHD to obesity to depression.
I believe it, and I’m grateful to my parents for pushing me out the door when I was a kid.
My dad was raised in the coal smoke of Chicago in the 1930s, but his family was lucky enough to vacation in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
He took us kids sailing, fishing and camping, even though his outdoor skills were limited to making toast on a Coleman stove and cranking up the Palomino pop-up trailer.
He was in the Navy in World War II and always thought of himself as a sailor. I loved and hated it, because sailing with Dad often ended in sheer terror.
When I was 10 years old, we tipped in the middle of White Bear Lake. Dad had left the covers off the hull, which filled with water so we couldn’t right the boat. It turtled, and we struggled onto the shell, looking like a walrus and his pup washed up on a white sand beach. Hours later, we floated to shore.
Life outdoors involves risk, but that’s partly why it’s essential — and so much more memorable than what happens in our cubes.
I’ve sat in tents during many thunderstorms, but even better was lying prone in a ditch with my friend Ian.
We were hanging out at my parents’ house and knew a storm was coming. A doozy, judging by the eerie, crackling coolness in the air.
We wanted a better look, so we left my parents’ house and walked to the south side of Vadnais Lake. To the northwest, the green clouds boiled, and soon the wind came galloping over the water.
It was too late to get home, so we hunkered in the downpour with lightning flashing and thunder rumbling, waiting for the funnel to drop.
We were ecstatic — laughing and hooting like chimpanzees. It passed quickly, as June storms do, and we walked home soaked and satisfied.
My best memory from 13 years of public school was walking the streets of White Bear Lake with Mr. Perpich, my biology teacher, as he identified trees. Thirty years later those hours under the sky stand out from the thousands spent in cinder block and fluorescent light. And I still know my trees.
Attendance at parks is down. Young people aren’t hunting, fishing, hiking or backpacking as they did in years past. Parents and schools try to get kids outside, but the farther they travel in cyberspace, the harder it is to bring them back to earth.
Our brains developed outside over the course of millions of years, and they’re at their best in their native environment.
Now we spend our lives encased in concrete and plastic. No wonder we’re starting to act like frantic rats in a laboratory maze.
I took a walk this morning, as I usually do. Fat drops of sanity fell from the clouds. I soaked them in and went home happy.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

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