• David Unger, PhD

What's with Being Outdoors?


I came across this statement in Scientific America: "Folks are going out into nature much less and decreasingly every year." Conservation ecologist Patricia Zaradic of the Environmental Leadership Program and co-author of the report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. has this to add: "It would take 80 million more visits this year to get the per capita number back up to the level it was in 1987." This article was written in 2008.


One explanation can be found in this quote a couple of years ago by a fifth grader: “I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where the electrical outlets are.” There you go. Many children today prefer the comfort of social media over the unknowns lurking in the formerly great outdoors. While there is not a lot of definitive research on the subject a considerable amount of children spend less than 30 minutes a week playing outside. I guess that will help with the skin cancers, but I think some suntan lotion and a longer stay would probably be better.


We have an evolving history with nature and the language to go with it. It seems we now have something called “biophobia” which is a fear of nature so that you mostly go out of your way to avoid it. I can understand veering away from the rattlesnakes and sharks, but that ought not to preclude a walk in your local park. Welcome to the Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by a naturalist that may apply to too many of us. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which your local therapist uses to diagnose you so that you might get some reimbursement from an insurance company, refers to natural environmental phobias – things that commonly throw people off balance like those snakes and sharks and herds of Pokemon Go’ers.


I don’t have links worth of reference articles on the value of outdoor play, but I do have this: a lot of the world depends on interplay. How people communicate and respond to one another as well as how we interact with the environment that houses us will dictate our fate. You can learn a lot sitting in front of your screen and interacting with the world via the multitude of avenues provided. You certainly need to know that world. But you also need to know what is actually outside and how it feels, touches and smells. Go interact with nature. Sit by some water and put your phone aside for a few moments. Take a walk around the block and not be connected the whole time to anything other than the world in your immediate surroundings.


When I was a boy I enjoyed camping out. It was an adventure. Something different. As I went through my 20’s and most of my 30’s I didn’t camp anymore. After graduate school some friends invited me to bring a sleeping bag, a fishing pole and head out to the Sierras to fish by a stream and get away from it all. I was a bit reluctant as I had no sleeping bag or fishing pole and had grown a fondness for beds. But I went. The first evening I was there we went for a short walk in the dark. We all took out our flashlights, but someone said let’s put them away and see if we can find our way using the moonlight and our senses. I got uncomfortable. First the bed. Now the light. But, lo and behold after a few stumbles we seamlessly made our way.


I realized I was afraid of being out in the woods. No one was around. There were strange noises and there was no 911. We didn’t have any electrical outlets. I wasn’t sure I knew how to fully take care of myself and handle things as I would in the city.


After a few days it dawned on me that my ancestors had lived this way. It was their everyday organic living long before those words were in fashion. The more I relaxed into just being in the woods and interacting with the day as it unfolded the more comfortable I became. After a few days in this natural environment it occurred to me that over time I could probably get equally or more comfortable in the forest than I was in the city.


I continue to do a little camping each year although the sleeping bag is now supported by an air mattress and the sleeping bag has a tent over it. I value the time in a slower moving place with the natural smells and sounds of nature. It helps give me perspective on the bigger picture. I take walks around the neighborhood and whenever possible I go outside just to be out there. I am not saying I am all about the great outdoors because truthfully I spend a lot of time indoors. I am just saying, that let us all endeavor to get ourselves and our children, parents, friends and anyone else we can out of the house and into the neighborhoods both near and far away.

#nature #biophobia #socialmedia #woods #camping #ancestors

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