Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Louv's Love of Nature Took Root in a Garden, Grew to International Influence

Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. It has been ever since my mother first introduced me to our small local library in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, where I grew up. Since that time, there has rarely been a time in my life when I haven’t been reading one or more books, a week.

Lately, I’ve been immersed in Richard Louv’s new book, The Nature Principle. In case you have never heard of Richard Louv, I urge you to go to your local bookstore, library, or to his website to get to know him. Start with his bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods, which sparked a national debate and an international movement to reconnect kids with nature. He coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder, influenced national policy, and helped inspire campaigns in over eighty cities, states and provinces throughout North America.

I am completely enthralled with his new book, The Nature Principle. Yes, his books contain all sorts of data, quotes, and studies to help encourage people to get outside and get back in touch with nature. (Including almost a whole chapter about Doug Tallamy's book, Bringing Nature Home). However, it is Louv’s writing style that keeps me mesmerized and has earned him the spot as one of my favorite non-fiction writers.

Here is an excerpt from the book, The Nature Principle. To me, this passage helps show the strong influence that gardening can have on all of us. I hope it will inspire you to read more of Louv’s work. And I hope it will inspire you to spend more time in your garden.

Chapter 3, The Garden 

Memories are seeds. When I was a boy, the good times in my family were, more often than not, associated with nature—with fishing trips, discovered snakes and captured frogs, with dark water touched by stars. 

We lived at the edge of the suburbs in Raytown, Missouri. At the end of our backyard, cornfields began, and then came the woods and then more farms that seemed to go on forever. Every summer I ran through the fields with my collie, elbowing the forest of whipping stalks and leaves, to dig my underground forts and climb into the arms of an oak that had outlived Jesse James. When the corn harvest was over, my father and I would walk through the stubble and search for the ground nests and speckled eggs of killdeer. Together, we watched with admiration as the parents attempted, with tragic cries and faked broken wings, to lead us away from their nests. 

I recall my father’s dark tanned neck, creased with lines of dust, as he tilled our garden. I ran ahead of him, pulling rocks and bones and toys from his path. My father, mother, little brother, and I planted strawberry starts and buried seeds for butternut squash and our own sweet corn. One year, my father read about the productivity of Swiss chard and, as was his way, became fully committed. That summer, we bagged Swiss chard for weeks. Our kitchen and part of our basement overflowed with it. My mother canned it. I carried brown shopping bags full of chard to the neighbors. My mother loved to tell the story about the summer the Swiss Chard Ate the Neighborhood. 

Controlled by no community association, our yard was humbled by locusts and heat and other natural covenants. With all my senses, I recall a late afternoon when my father and mother and my brother and I raced the weather to complete the construction of a retaining wall for sod and garden. We placed limestone slabs into a line to hold back erosion. We felt the wind quicken and the air change, and stood up together near the end; we wiped sweat from our foreheads and stared at the quilted pea-green sky, felt a queasy stillness and sudden burst of wind, and then we saw the hail advancing yard to yard like an invading army. We rushed to the basement door.

Such moments became part of the family lore, because our time in the garden and on the water and in the woods held our family together...

…Perhaps these childhood experiences are why, as an adult, I am compelled to believe in the restorative power of nature, in a human/nature reunion. And that because of this reunion, life will be better.

Ahhhh, see what I mean? I admit that I usually don’t buy books. I visit the local library several times a week and see my contributions in over-due book fees as money well spent. But I need this book in my own personal library. It is the perfect reminder of the deep connection between gardening, nature and protecting our planet.

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