Span (3)

I’m reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.

He talks about two kinds of attention: directed attention, and fascination. Directed attention is what we use up in our lives, focusing on work, solving problems, speaking and being spoken to. Fascination is a break from that. We are alert, but we are resting. This is what we find among the trees or walking through the desert. We are aware of our surroundings, but we emerge from it clear-headed instead of spent.

This makes complete, whole-body sense to me. In those bad moments, I am out of attention. I can’t focus because there’s too much happening, and because whatever part of me is in charge of maintaining focus is too pooped to go on.

I knew this instinctively, without having the words for it, before. I’d say I needed rest, and I didn’t (mostly) mean I want to be on the couch with my eyes closed, or staring at a flickering screen. I meant I need to do something restorative, something that replenishes what’s been used up. What would that be?

Louv's project is to show how important contact with nature is—for everyone, but especially for kids. So he writes a lot about how time in nature restores us. I can’t disagree. I’ve spent some joyful time in close contact with nature and come out as restored as I can imagine being. And my most frequent fantasy escape would certainly count as a natural place.

I will get us all outside more, and use some of my rest time, when I can, to be where things grow. And it helps, always, to have new words for a problem and a new kind of solution to look for.

But what, again, about 10:30 on a Tuesday morning? How can I sneak that kind of restoration into my life, into a house where the sound is already taking up all the space?

Where do you find it? What fills you up again?


  1. As you know, I get that noise sensitivity thing too, and used to quite often. It's rare now. One thing that always helped me was humming or singing, because I could at least control something about the noise. When I got overwhelmed by the noise, I could focus on my own voice a bit. Not sure if that will help you. I love that book. Love it. I wrote about it quite a bit last summer.
    I understand you aren't on a medication hunt, but it IS bullshit that you can't get an appointment before May. On the other hand, your GP can prescribe meds too, especially short term. I wish you could come on retreat with my friend A and I in March. The silence is so welcome. Maybe next year, when Iris won't be nursing so often.

  2. I am also incredibly affected by noise. My husband cannot understand why the sound of our fish tank bothers me -- but I so desperately need complete silence sometimes and that noise is the only thing I can hear. By the end of each day, I crave absolute silence. I can't stand the sound of TV or radio. I don't remember ever feeling that way before.

    For me, though, it's a walk on the beach that helps. The sound of the waves drowns out every whine, every complaint -- everything. I can tune myself into every nuance of the waves crashing and tune everything else out. The problem, though, is actually getting us out of the house when my last nerve is shot because I am so tempted to just let my son sit in front of the TV. It seems easier even though it isn't.

  3. I am looking for this too. Not really religious, but it is church for me. I love the church we go to. It's huge and beautiful and I could just soak up the colors of the sunlight through the stained glass windows for hours. There are lots of hands for the baby, and Mimi has a little playroom there (Twos group) and it is just (pardon the pun) heavenly.

    But we've been too sick to go for weeks.

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  5. Years ago, I read a great article in Reader's Digest that explored the science of how being outside in nature affects the development of children's brain in a good way - in particular, the color green stimulates certain areas of the brain.

    One of the things I first noticed that I loved about staying home full-time was that I am outside so much now. Before kids, I would lounge on our back deck drinking beer and wine. Now? I am rolling around in the grass in our front yard instead. This is not including all the visits to the park, zoo, and the children's farm nearby. So, yes - I wholeheartedly agree that there is something incredibly restorative about being outside.

    These past 7 months have been so HARD and I know that besides all the post-partum hormones it has not helped that having a small baby and dreading lugging 2 kids around has kept me inside too much.

    I depend heavily on knitting and reading these days. Knitting in particular has been my lifesaver. I try to take time once a week, for just an hour or so to knit. I plug in tunes on the iPod and just concentrate on what I am working on.

    Reading keeps me sane - even if most of the day is spent doing something mindless with the kids, at least I feel that I accomplished something for my brain by reading a little bit at night before I go to bed.

    I will be looking into that book - it looks like something I need to read!

  6. Last Child in the Woods ––
    Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
    by Richard Louv
    Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
    November 16, 2006

    In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

    But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

    It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

    It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

    On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: "Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back." Then he titles his next chapter "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?" Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are "nature-lovers" and are "just hikers on wheels". But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It's not!

    On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one's health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one's experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the "civilized" world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I've been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can't remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

    It's clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.


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