Sunday, May 11, 2008

Nature or Nurture?

Here's a question that's been puzzling me: What impulse drives certain individuals to adopt the naturalist persuasion? Three long months ago I was writing about how we get interested in Nature, what makes us become naturalists. Rather than update that old post, I'll add some new links here:

Dave at Osage + Orange writes today about his mom's influence on his interest in Nature.

Another Dave in a different state seems to have been the fortunate recipient of a similar family mentoring process, most likely aided by solitude in the woods.

And, of course, we know that others find their own way. In our discussion of the role of books, Matt of Sitka Nature commented aptly:

In a culture with a sad lack of personal natural history elders/mentors, through their books, authors are able to play that role. They provide a greater context and allow for a more rapid depth of understanding of those things that I observe outside.
I've often thought about my own fascination and where it could have arisen. Search as I can within the family history, I find no evidence of a deep attachment to Nature in my ancestors. Neither parent, neither sibling, has a similar level of enthusiasm. One (of 19 on one side; 4 on the other) in my generation of cousins seems to share the interest; only one I can think of in the following generation as well. Perhaps I just don't know my relatives well enough, but even if there were five times as many, it still seems a paltry level of interest.

As we contemplate Richard Louv's thesis, understanding how to generate—and support— that interest becomes paramount. Fred First is working on a book of ideas for "bridging the Nature gap" by sharing Nature with children, but what of the children who have intense interest but are alone in their pursuit? In these days of restricted environments and curtailed freedom, will they find their own way to Nature as we did?

Footnote in 2009: Fred's beautiful—and inspiring—book on connecting children with their natural surroundings, at last report, has failed to find a publisher! Do check out this amazing project at the link above.


Dave Coulter said...


Thanks for linking me to your site. This is a subject that has been bandied about with friends, co-workers, etc.

I grew up in the suburbs. My folks were hardly tree huggers, but maybe because they were born in the 20's they just had a knowledge of that past world that they shared as a matter of course.

The desire to learn about nature came from within, and didn't really hit me until I was about

I remember as a small kid enjoying "nature" but not any more so than baseball, firecrackers, or riding my bike.

In my case my parents really didn't guide me at all into this area - it just happened.

SLW said...

Thanks for the clarification on your story, Dave. Yes, I agree, that "from within" factor is dominant. It's been there as long as I remember, though our woods and backyards were hardly untamed... Maybe it's just, as you said, having the opportunity (expectation) to be outside so much, which kids now don't seem to get as much.

Thanks for stopping by!

Dave Coulter said...

One of these days I want to write about forts, tree houses, etc.

It seems like all the kids had these little places they could go to - right in their own yard.

A different times I claimed the innards of a honeysuckle hedge or our logpile as my fort!

I hope kids are still doing that!

Tai said...

Hello there. This is a mystery well worth exploring. I grew up in inner-city Los Angeles and no one in my family was interested in nature or animals. But from an early age I had an intense curiosity about the natural world. Where did it come from? Why some people and not others? I started thinking about this last year, with this brief post.

Christie Lynn said...

It seems innate in kids to be fascinated by nature - if there's a lot around, they get the chance to explore and fall in love with it. I grew up on the beaches of Hawaii and in the woods of Vermont - both places where I could roam and interact with all kinds of nature. I'd say my parents caused this love to blossom, but my dad reminds me to this day that I always loved it - when I was a kid, they couldn't pull me away from tide pools. I was always curious and investigative when it came to the natural world. And now, when I see kids and I can show them something about biology, they always are interested. Their faces light up in a way that is simply priceless. Perhaps we should spend even more time and effort exposing children to the world around them!