Why the only cure for now is nature.

The Eldest shows Amy a discovery at Tannehill.

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, James Hamblin explores the emerging profession of “ecotherapy”. My heart skips and cartwheels to see Richard Louv’s name quoted in a mainstream media outlet.

These are things we know. Things which explain why the Boy Scouts continues to survive as an organization. Because, let’s face it, once the Boy Scouts start “camping” online, the Boy Scouts are finished.

But in this day and age, we don’t do what we know as much anymore. Instead, we do what the people down the street are doing. If keeping up with the Jones was hard before, it’s almost impossible now that everyone can keep tabs on Facebook.

And then there’s the dilemma of expert-worship. I was surprised and excited to learn of medical doctors, like Robert Zarr, who write prescriptions for nature time.

That’s awesome. It needs to happen. I hope other doctors learn from it. I am very, very grateful for physicians who take a holistic approach to the care, treatment, and diagnosis of patients.

We climbed up the hill and then picked up rocks to use as chalk.
Karst or slate make excellent hand-drawn trail markings on trees.

But when I think of long-time organizations like Sierra Club or small local garden clubs and naturalist groups or nonprofits like the Druid City Garden Project, I can’t help thinking the only new thing about ecotherapy is the word. People have been involved in careers devoted to increasing our exposure and interaction with nature for many, many years. What stands out in the present is the medicalization of what was once natural. The prescription for what is patently obvious.

As a culture, we’ve outsourced care for decades. Now we are outsourcing common sense as well. Before long, we’ll outsource our political conscience to men on TV who bully one another. By long, I mean maybe a few months.

The truth is that kids are more likely to have visited a theme park or Disneyland by their 8th birthday than they are to have camped with their family. The memories we make involve purchases and fancy accoutrements rather than stories and campfires. Maybe what we need most is to heal from exorbitant, expensive, and over-stimulated vacations.

Prophet wants me to look, mama, look!

Hamblin concludes:

The nature cure is not a cure-all. Think of it more like a foundation- a brick upon which one builds the walls of a sturdy, resilient, awe-inspired self. We don’t go to nature to build muscles we can admire in the mirror. Even if we do, what we get is different.

What we get from nature is a sense of awe and reverence. That’s why running with headphones through a city street is not likely to be a nature-cure alternative to your treadmill. At which point in the run did you stop and listen to the wind? At which point did you admire a snail slurping across a log? At which point did you leave the clamor and drama of daily life behind?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. But one of the reasons that I’m homeschooling my kids is because an unpopular, hidden, and secret part of me believes that it matters. And it matters even more given the way the world is changing. The relationships they build with nature right now will sustain them through the challenges of college and early adulthood. When they can’t afford a therapist or a fancy counselor, if they don’t make enough money for those options, there will always be some woods into which they may run. A forest into which they can retreat. A haven where the busy bodies of squirrels scamper over branches with acorns and hopefully my kids will look up for one second and discover- as so many have discovered before them- that life is much bigger than this moment’s heartbreak. The world is much grander than our bewildering ache.

I had a favorite magnolia who knew everything from my first kiss to the wonder of my first period. My back nested into that hole in her bark perfectly. The shade of a familiar tree offers not only succor by also counsel: the hope that one’s strength grows alongside the burls and bruises of time. A place where things continue to change and yet remain mysterious and eternal. A place where you can both lose yourself and find yourself in the space of a single moment.