Louv struggles to find the right note here. At first, he seems intent on providing the research to prove that nature has a positive impact on children, but there hasn’t been enough research (and I forgive him his attempt to make something worthwhile out of Howard Gardner’s work), and who is he trying to convince anyway? Anyone who picks up this book believes that something has gone seriously wrong with the way our children do and do not interact with nature. So who is his audience? There are anecdotes and examples galore, but Louv doesn’t seem at home there either. There are people and organizations doing good work, and there’s a notion of spirituality (with a lowercase ‘s’ and otherwise) that merits more than the quick nod Louv gives it. So for those of us who accept his premise – without research – then what’s this book for? Is it, perhaps, to know that all is not lost? That there is progress being made? That one does not have to go to the country to get ‘nature’? It’s hard to say. Louv is tentative everywhere – arguing for hunting and fishing in what could have been provocative ways had he chosen to stick with his line of thinking. Will I let my children out of my sight more because he shows me that the “stranger danger” piece is overstated? I doubt it.
All that said, it is an inspiring book. I should know the names of that which is in my backyard because “[g]iving a name to something is a way of knowing it” (41, emphasis mine). We need to look more carefully; attention, as the man wrote, must be paid. “We’ve been sold a bill of goods – especially parents [and educators]* – about how valuable computer-based experience is” (67). “Life is,” Louv writes, “always at the edges. Together, sit at the edge of a pond in August — don’t move; wait. . . Use all of your senses” (173-4). Seems like good advice to me.
There are certain things that defy measurement – the ability to get lost in nature may be one of them. We need to spend less time convincing ourselves and more time outside.
* – I added the bit about educators.