In Northern England the weather is, shall we say, wet. If the sun does come out, my children run into the house screaming "What is that fiery ball in the sky?!" Our family tries to take advantage of sunny weather whenever possible.
Recently, we went to a lakeside location in the beautiful English countryside. I had visions of my children playing on the shore, skipping rocks and looking up at me as if to say, ‘Thank you, Dad, for your investment into our well-being.’ In reality, it turned into a scene from “When Midges Attack.” At one point reminiscent of the opening credits of Green Acres, my youngest daughter declared that she hates the outdoors and she is a “New York City girl!”
Defeated by nature, our family retreated home (after a quick reparative ice cream stop). Despite our best attempts at using it for our own benefit, we see countless news stories of nature’s unwillingness to be tamed.
Conservation is humankind’s attempt to protect nature from ourselves, yet we are not separate from it. We often forget that we’re a part of nature in an interdependent albeit sometimes adversarial relationship. Even a New York City girl needs a connection to the wild. However nature is not just a tool for us to use for our own good.
Until recently, this inter-dependence has not been written about in psychological literature. Ecopsychology is a developing field that addresses this relationship (Roszak, 2001). But does this so-called “relationship” with nature affect us emotionally? Research shows that nature can influence our emotions; the more time we spend in nature, the greater our sense of emotional affinity with it (Kals, Schumacher & Montada, 1999).
In my neighbourhood, there is an abandoned pub where the former outdoor seating space has been turned into a “wildlife conversation area.” While I appreciate the effort, there is no emotional engagement with the residents and this conservation space. It was an afterthought to a potentially derelict site. For those us who support conservation, we can’t expect people to seriously invest their resources into something with which they have no emotional connection. If we want conservation to thrive, we need to help people foster their relationship with nature, just as we would with any other relationship. Like any good relationship, it takes making time to get to know one another.
Scottish naturalist John Muir says, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Don’t let insects, sunburn, ballet practice, X-Factor, house cleaning, bills or any of life’s necessary (yet environmentally isolating) demands get in the way of your very important relationship with nature. Besides, parents, its cheaper than seeing a movie! (Minus the cost of ice cream bribery).
P.S. For some practical ideas of outdoor activities, The National Trust has created a list of 50 things children need to do before they are 12.