Rewilding Our Experience of Nature

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We need wildness. Countless generations have swapped stories over the campfire and stared up at the starry night sky. Yet playful, natural childhoods and direct experiences in the wild are declining as our population becomes increasingly urbanized and wired. Set among the Lost Pines of Bastrop, Texas, the recent Children & Nature Network Conference- 2015 focused on efforts to restore the disappearing connections between today’s younger generation and the natural world.

Keynote speaker Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” declared, “I believe more in charismatic ideas than charismatic leaders.” For me, “rewilding” the human experience was one of the conference’s most compelling ideas.

Rewilding the land, as coined by conservationist David Foreman, is a strategy for restoring biodiversity and reconnecting large wilderness areas. In the field of ecopsychology, rewilding refers to restoring our emotional health and well-being by reconnecting with traditional, age-old natural experiences. At the conference, Dr. Patricia Hasbach, an ecopsychologist and co-editor of “The Rediscovery of the Wild,” spoke about our innate preference for the natural world and how our loss of direct experiences in nature impacts our health and relationship to the Earth.

“A central assumption [of ecopsychology] is that our inner world and the outer world are intimately connected,” explains Hasbach in the “Rewilding for Human Flourishing” session. A growing body of research supports the idea that we are healthier, happier, and smarter when we immerse ourselves in nature.

Not only does spending time outdoors in green spaces help ease stress and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, it also lowers our blood pressure and improves cognitive functioning. It makes sense that we feel better in nature when we consider our evolutionary history. The natural world has shaped our development as a species and continues to influence our individual development.

And as Richard Louv suggests in his 2005 book “The Last Child in the Woods,” our planet’s health may depend upon our children developing their natural biophilia, or love and appreciation for the Earth’s living systems. Positive, early experiences in nature often form the basis of our stewardship values, but children today are spending more time indoors on electronics than interacting with their natural surroundings.

Hasbach describes our need to feel “wonder, awe, and a sense of being connected to something bigger than ourselves” and encourages us to restore balance in our families’ lives by creating opportunities for direct, meaningful experiences in our natural environment. These rewilding activities might include sitting by a fire or under the night sky, climbing, immersing ourselves in water, engaging in traditional seasonal activities, or walking along natural edges such as a beach or ridge.

She notes that our interactions with nature often fall along a continuum from wild to domestic. For example, we may provide food for ourselves by hunting, foraging, or gardening. And “recognizing and being recognized by a non-human other” is more thrilling when we meet the eyes of a wild animal in its natural habitat rather than those of our domestic pet at home. Today, that little flutter of excitement is rarely felt, but as Hasbach reminds us, “Domestic nature is only part of who we are and what we need.” Make time to rewild your child.