Posts Tagged ‘Last Child in the Woods’


Cool Baby


Here’s 4-month-old granddaughter Coralie, looking very cool in her shades, ready for a stroll outdoors. Even well-wrapped against the cold, she can enjoy the blue sky, bird song, and other tastes of the natural world. With two parents who are deeply committed naturalists and ecologists, she is sure to be a Wild Child.

Studies show that in the space of a generation, children have nearly ceased all outdoor activity, with the average American boy or girl spending just 4 to 7 minutes a day outdoors, a drop of 90% from their parents’ childhood days. In an interview with radio host Tom Ashbrook entitled Hey Kids! Go Outside, Already! author and TV host Dr. Scott Sampson argues for the benefits of raising a wild child. The interview with Sampson, author of How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature is linked here.


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Thanks, Ellen!

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We were dogsitting the corgis this weekend. Saturday was so beautiful, sunny and just a bit cool, that we wanted to get in a hike. We had some shopping errands to run, and didn’t want to overchallenge the rather tubby Pookie, so decided to try out the Stonebridge Trail in Barrhaven. Barrhaven is a suburb of Ottawa, and like suburbia everywhere, features acres and acres of streets and houses and big box stores. However, a narrow buffer zone has been maintained along the little Jock River and the larger Rideau into which it flows.


The trailhead offers a large parking lot and the trail itself is gravelled, smooth and undemanding. However, even though you are rarely out of sight of housing, the trail is surprisingly pleasant, with views of the rivers as it meanders through forested strips. Near the parking lot are large playing fields. We were surprised to see a game in progress, not of the commonplace soccer, but of cricket! It’s not a common sport in Canada and I can’t recall seeing a game in progress before.


The Jock River has its beginnings in Goodwood Marsh near Franktown and meanders 72 kilometres (45 mi) until it empties into the Rideau River north of Manotick. Its watershed drains 551 square kilometres (213 sq mi) of land. The Jock is named after an early 19th-century drowning victim, but the river looked calm and serene on this day, with rafts of Canada geese dotting its surface here and there.


After circumventing the playing fields, the trail enters woods. Occasional apple trees are reminders of the area’s former use as farmland. The Barrhaven area was first inhabited by First Nations people, but by the early 19th century, had been settled by European farmers. In the 1960s, Mel Barr purchased a 200 acre farm and began the construction of the first of the suburban subdivisions in the region that bears his name.


The various subdivisions of Barrhaven include older homes from these early days of development and more recent builds. In the 1990s, a building boom in the region saw a huge expansion of housing here. The newer subdivisions include some of the latest in green construction technology. Stonefield Flats in Minto’s Chapman Mills development offers (according to the builder Minto’s website) the largest LEED for Homes community in Canada, with leading edge energy-efficient houses.

One of the landmarks along the trail is a home with a small observatory in the backyard.


The trail leads under the overpass for a busy road. When we stopped by the riverside, the water appeared to be clear and clean, but the dogs declined to have a drink there. Perhaps there noses were telling them something about the water quality. An EPA site says this about runoff into rivers that run through populated regions:

Runoff pollution is that associated with rainwater or melting snow that washes off roads, bridges, parking lots, rooftops, and other impermeable surfaces. As it flows over these surfaces, the water picks up dirt and dust, rubber and metal deposits from tire wear, antifreeze and engine oil that has dripped onto the pavement, pesticides and fertilizers, and discarded cups, plastic bags, cigarette butts, pet waste, and other litter. These contaminants are carried into our lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans.

In fact, the yearly road runoff from a city of 5 million could contain as much oil as one large tanker spill. There’s a really excellent article about unseen sources of pollution at SeetheSea.Org.


The trail is impressively long, running for a number of miles. We stopped for a rest at a bench offering a view of the Rideau River before heading back. The view was somewhat obstructed by an ugly fence, presumable intended to protect the foolish from themselves and the bank of the river from further erosion caused by people scrambling up and down.


In spite of the close proximity of a large community, the trail offers plenty to see. A number of really large, beautiful trees, including old maples and oaks, border the trail. I also noticed a large walnut tree, not a common species in this region.


In open areas there were asters and goldenrod and milkweed and grasses. The forest had interesting ferns and other flora. We could hear chickadees calling and excavations in the trees gave evidence of the presence of woodpeckers.

We passed quite a few bikers, including parents with young riders, and joggers and dogwalkers. However, there was a notable absence of children exploring on their own, playing, paddling, mucking about. Where were they? I was reminded of Richard Lou’s treatise, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

As we were reaching the trailhead, we encountered the only children we saw that were actually looking closely, interacting with nature. Two young girls with their parents were opening milkweed pods and watching the fluffy parachutes fly away.

The hike was a pleasant way to enjoy the day, and just right to tucker out Pookie, not to mention us.


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I was recently driving down a road that bisects the Larose Forest. The birches above reminded me of Robert Frost’s poem, Birches.
It begins:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

Along with The Road Not Taken and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowing Evening and a few others, Birches is one of Frost’s most beloved poems. When I googled birches and Frost, I got a long list of results. You can readily find copies of the poem, comments on the poem, free essays on the poem. In the latter category, I was drawn to an essay that states “When we first read the poem, all I could think of was how the poem just wasted 10 minutes of my life.” Well, maybe you get what you pay for! The poem continues:

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust–
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)

It’s true that ice storms can be hard on trees, especially birches. I think in the case of the birches pictured, however, another possible culprit is edge effect, the susceptibility that comes with fragmenting a larger forest with roads, utility corridors, or other development. Ontario Nature has a great introduction to fragmentation in our forests available here. Frost continues:

I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows–
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

Where would such a boy be found there days? A swinger of birches. While even a generation ago children were sent outdoors by their frazzled mothers (“What are you doing inside on such a nice day? Get outside and play!”), todays children spend much of their time watching TV, playing video games, working on computers, text-messaging. When they are outdoors, it is often to participate in an adult-organized sport such as soccer. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv coined a term for this disengagement with the outdoors: Nature-deficit Disorder. Now there is a growing movement to reintroduce children to the natural world. An example is the No Child Left Inside program. Another take on this is Robert Bateman’s Get to Know program. Frost finishes:

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


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