The call hasn’t gone up yet, at least not today, but it will. As I scribble these notes Boy Urchin is umbilically attached to a laptop, headphones on; his sister his wrapped up in a duvet on the couch, engrossed in some years-old game show on the box. I glance out the window. Thin wisps of cloud are barely visible to the north, on the opposite horizon a couple of puff-balls bring variety. Closer, the leaves of the rowan barely ripple. And there are no molehills peppering the moss and the clover.
They have already been told. Between the chores we will be out. Smiling is optional. We need to be out later in the day anyway, so I’m thinking of an early departure, a woodland walk with a backpack of goodies. We might even call it lunch. There is an apple in the bowl; and a tin of chicken soup for the flask. That usually works.
Having undertaken, just last week, to reappraise the priorities during the school holidays, I decided it was well past time, but not too late, to finally pluck Last Child in the Woods from the shelf. It is almost a decade since the seminal work of Richard Louv was published. Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder is the subtitle. It is a book that has inspired many a writer since. And it is a recognition of what we all know, backed up by years of research, interviews and reports.
The way we raise our children today is far removed from our own time at the same age. Many reasons for that are very valid. There are more dangers out there, from vastly increased traffic, to strangers intent on evil, and, certainly in the case of Louv’s side of the Atlantic, an unhealthy gun culture, to name but a few.
As yet I am barely half way through the book. There are eye opening moments, evidence from far and wide. Today’s children are sheltered from nature; and as they enter adulthood so their own children are more likely to spend increasing time indoors, oblivious to the world outside.
One memorable encounter was of a nine year old, exposed to Aids, taken on a camping trip, an escape from urban misery. A trip to the latrines through the night brought a gasp, eyes open, staring. Never before had she seen stars. That moment changed her life.
The statistics from the National Parks are worrying. Children who weren’t taken camping don’t camp as adults. Increasingly visitors to the parks are unaccompanied by children. They’re all indoors, in front of the television, or attached to the computer or games console.
The facts and figures on obesity and medications since those heady days of the 50s, 60s and 70s when we grew up with a certain amount of freedom are frightening. I am minded of a brief visit to the Latvian capital some years ago. The local youth were stick thin; bloated I felt, carrying a mere fraction of the weight of today. But through the centuries old arches of the city walls glowed the golden arches of the west, signs of creeping misery. In Western Europe we were fast catching up with the problems of the USA, and I suspect that a return to Riga today may confirm that the Latvians may be closing on where we were then.
So I’m going to read the rest of Louv’s book. School holiday priorities of life will change. And there will be a flask of chicken soup in the woods by lunchtime. It’s a sun cream and sun hat day, for sure. And there are wonders out there.