tideshift

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Explorers and Pioneers

The other day my son asked me if there were any places in the world left to explore.

I said that I thought there were, but that many people believe the wild places are being lost, and that it would be better to leave as many wild places wild as possible, by not going there to explore.

But then I told him that I've been thinking about the American "pioneer" character - always pushing boundaries, looking for something new. It's derived, I suppose, from our cultural heritage from explorers and colonists. For those of us who are not indigenous, our sense of place is always about someplace other than where we are - either where we came from, or where we're headed next.

I don't think the pioneer outlook, as such, is a terrible one, although I hate the murderous, racist ways in which that drive to move on has played out across our national history.

Then I told him that I think that character trait, like the American hopefulness I posted about earlier this month, is actually exactly what is called for right now, and that I think he may well be an explorer, not of new places, but of new ways of living and being.

During a similar conversation, while walking him home from school a few weeks ago, I tried to explain the Gaia Hypothesis to him, that all of nature is a single living organism, capable of healing itself just the way humans and animals have immune systems to heal ourselves.

I pointed out the trees, as the lungs, and the brooks and rivers, like the blood system. Then he asked me: "Where are the eyes?" And I touched his eyes, and his little sister's eyes, and my own eyes, and said, "Right here." He is starting to get that humans are part of nature, but since it's so far from being a dominant theme in the culture as a whole, I think he gets some kind of cognitive dissonance problem when I say it.

So yesterday, the new issue of The Sun arrived, and the interview for February is with Richard Louv, talking about Nature Deficit Disorder, the virtual "house arrest" most children are being raised under, and the consequences of this phenomenon for personal, public and planetary health.

At the end, he talks about giving a speech to high school students:

I talked to these high-school students about the connection between their health and their direct experience of nature, and about how in the next forty years all our lives must change because of global warming and other environmental challenges. We'll need new kinds of agriculture, new kinds of urban design, new kinds of architecture, new sources of energy. Whole new professions will emerge, for which we don't even have names yet. When you frame the issue that way, young people can get excited about it.

After the students left, I asked the biology teacher who'd invited me to speak why he thought they'd been so attentive. He said it was simple: I'd said something hopeful about the future of the environment. They never hear that. The major message that comes through to kids is that it's too late for the environment. Why suit up for the game if it's already over? We need to change that message. As a journalist, I don't believe in printing happy news for its own sake. Nor do I think for a second we should pull back from printing bad news. But we should expand our message to say that we are facing not just a host of problems, but also a great opportunity.

So I'm going to keep talking to my son about strange new careers for inventors, as "recycling engineers." I'm going to tell him about my progress toward creating and implementing a coherent, comprehensive community gardening plan for my town and the city where my church stands.

I'm going to keep encouraging the bird-watching, and his new interest in finding animal tracks in the snowy backyard, to measure and identify. I'm going to let him play more outside.

And I'm taking both kids for a hike this afternoon - cold as it is out there.

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