Yesterday I had the pleasure of slipping out of the grey cement city and into green, leafy paradise. It was only for a brief stop up at the Omega Institute— the spiritual summer camp with meditation instead of color war in Rhinebeck, New York—but it was blissful. From the moment we stepped out of the car I felt suddenly right again. There were birds talking, I could smell the world—it was round, and grassy, and new. I commented on this to my hosts and they started talking about Nature Deficit Disorder.
Turns out this is a much-bandied term. One man, Richard Louv, even wrote a book about it, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.” In an interview with Salon last year he defined the admittedly non-clinical “disorder” as, “…the cumulative effect of withdrawing nature from children’s experiences… Families too can show the symptoms–increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, feelings of not being rooted in the world. So can communities, so can whole cities. Really, what I’m talking about is a disorder of society….”
I’ve often thought about this—that birdsong and weeds and cricket noise and the smell of things growing (other than mold and sidewalk funk), is a nutrient, and that without it, we get soul scurvy. Of course Vitamin N has its downsides—a friend has vicious poison ivy from his garden, my ankles are bitten to bits by mosquitoes, my man-friend had to battle bed bugs in his apartment (not to mention Katrina, the Tsunami, etc.)—yet being deprived, I’m in a position to romanticize it. I regularly stare out my window and imagine Manhattan island 500 years ago. Leafy, and lush, and hilly, quiet, and filled with drinkable streams (Canal Street, now best-known for knock-off handbags, was, at one point an actual canal).
Before we left Omega yesterday, I dove into the lake. As I lay floating on my back looking at the white sky, I told myself to feel the stress dissolving from me—and it did, blooming off of my body and out to the fishes (in hopefully harmless form); I felt distinctly shedded. Later that night, back in my small city apartment box, I smelled the skin on my forearm, and happily, the lake was still in it.
Do you have a nature deficit? What do you do to fix it?
Image by: Stephen Zopf
–by Valerie Reiss (Amy’s on vacation)