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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nature and Youth

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The unmitigated awe that nature can inspire in the youthful imagination has been a subject of reflection for countless poets and authors. Transcendentalists like Walt Whitman ascribed an almost pious relevance to a child’s discovery of nature.

It’s this sense of awe and wonder that writer Richard Louv believes is at stake in today’s youth, resulting largely from a dwindling contact with nature and an immersion in electronic media and structured play. In 2005 he published Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, enumerating the many ills that arise when children are gradually divorced from the natural world.

The book’s main premise is that contact with nature is just as important to a child’s well-being as good nutrition and adequate sleep. According to his introduction, “our mental, physical and spiritual health depends upon it.”

Those whose youth was spent far removed from grass and streams might disagree with the critical urgency of his appeal, yet even for the nature-deprived the natural world has always found a way of seeping into the imagination, populating horror stories and fairy tales with enchanted glens and gurgling brooks. And which of us doesn’t have at least one idyllic childhood memory of scouring rock-pools for crabs or hunting for mushrooms amid the heady scent of damp earth? Perhaps the fact that many of us still yearn for such moments of intent absorption accounts for Louv’s ultimately optimistic tone. If we make the right choices, he says, there’s a chance we might see “the rebirth of wonder, even joy.”

Louv comes to the Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., on April 24 at 7 p.m. Call (414) 964-4444 for more information.

Also this week, world-renowned author, poet, performer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou comes to the Kohler Memorial Theater (230 School St., Kohler) as part of its Distinguished Guest Series. Best known for her autobiographical work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou has garnered much critical acclaim for the evocative shaping of her expressions, often around painful themes such as sexual abuse and racial segregation. The event takes place April 26 at 7 p.m. For ticket information, call (920) 458-1972.