Monday, July 21, 2014

A legacy of roots?

Have you read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder? It's been several years since I read it. I may want to re-read it after I finish assimilating last night's dinner table comment from the Daughter Person. She reminded us that she likes her doses of nature in day-trip sizes, not overnight camping sizes. We tried, when she was younger, to get her more engaged with outdoor activities, including some overnight camping. From her comments yesterday, I believe we've ended up with one of those cup half full or half empty situations. By the same token, my mother always hoped I'd grow up to be a doctor, specifically, a neurosurgeon. I think she loved me despite the disappointments I brought into her life. I'm constantly grateful that my own Daughter Person hasn't caused me the worries I caused my parents. Do you think that does actually worry about their fawns?

doe with two fawns
Photo by J. Harrington

Earlier today I finished reading an essay on biophilia by David W. Orr. He notes that
"The capacity for biophilia can still be snuffed out by education that aims no higher than to enhance the potential for upward mobility, which has come to mean putting as much distance as possible between the apogee of one’s career trajectory and one’s roots. We should worry a good bit less about whether our progeny will be able to compete as a “world-class workforce” and a great deal more about whether they will know how to live sustainably on the earth."
I'm certainly far from what I consider my New England roots, but it was there that I learned much of what I know about living sustainably, most of it related to hunting and fishing and clamming and foraging. My parents weren't particularly drawn to nature, but they were as accommodating as they could be to their children who, for some unaccountable reason, spent as much time as they could get away with in the woods, along streams and at the ocean. When I got older, Minnesota offered the prospect of trout fishing and grouse hunting, as well as a job helping to restore water quality. It was only after I arrived that I learned about the goose hunting to be had in the western parts of the state. Do geese and ganders concern themselves with how goslings turn out?

goose, gander and teenagers
Photo by J. Harrington

Clearly, I moved here with a severe case of biophilia and wouldn't have stayed if Minnesota's environment didn't support what I find important to my quality of life. Part of the values I've shared with my children is that nature is worthy of our respect and affection for all the gifts she gives us, including beauty. These days, as I listen to more and more talk focused on creating jobs at almost any cost, so that more of us can have more of, and the biggest, and best, and latest of everything, I doubt that a Minnesota governor will ever again end up on the cover of any national magazine, holding a Minnesota fish, describing "the good life" in this state. If I'm right, I think we'll have lost more than we could ever gain, including priceless things that money really can't buy, such as community and interdependence. Do you think our children will be able to enjoy a good life in Minnesota if their roots only hold them until an offer of a job in a distant state or country comes along with more pay? Those kind of shallow roots belong to tumbleweeds, not people. I don't think rootlessness is the way to enjoy a sustainable life. Is that the legacy we really want for our children? Might we heed John Pillar's vision?

Roots

By John Piller 

            Mendota, Illinois 

It's easy to believe you can go back
Whenever you desire, jump in the car
And drive, arrive at dusk—the hour

You recall most vividly—and walk
Among the buildings spread across the farm,
Out toward the pastures, woods, and fields.

There is music in the leaves, in the dense
Columns of green corn. The wind lays down
The tune. You can play it, too, simply

By walking with eyes closed, arms
Stretched out, lightly striking the stalks.
Who wouldn't desire, like the children

Lost in so many similar fields,
To sit down on the turned earth and drift
Away on the rhythms of his own

First possible death? Rescuing
Voices come closer, veer off. Flashlight beams
Strobe over your head. You do not care.

Each building you remember—hen house,
Sheep shed, corn crib, barn—caved in upon itself,
The walls and roofs collapsing with a final

Percussive clap, since you last walked those fields.
No one you will ever know works that land now.
It is as green as Eden. Life rises in the roots, in the leaves.


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