Have you ever imagined a world without sticks?
The thought had never even crossed my mind, nor my children's...
As our group was leaving one of our favorite nature trails, a worker came out to tell the kids not to take the sticks they were carrying.
I believe her exact words were:
"If everyone took a stick, there wouldn't be any more sticks."
No more sticks...
Interestingly enough, our kids, all four of the ones who she was talking to, had actually brought their own favorite sticks with them and were carrying out their own sticks. That's how much they love sticks, they bring them and own them and know who's belongs to who.
Imagine God pondering the thought that he had not designed the world with enough sticks for children to play with, swing on, climb up, use as pretend weapons, build tee pees with... Ha!
Unforunately, when we visit state and regional parks with our children in Southern California, the message from rangers and volunteers more often than not is that nature is to be observed from afar, not touched, not known intimately. Enjoying and experiencing nature is against the rules.
We're talking about 4 sticks in a 388 acre park with thousands of trees continually producing new sticks!
Here's what author Richard Louv says about it in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder in the chapter titled "The Criminalization of Natural Play"
"If endangered and threatened species are to coexist with humans, adults and children do need to tread lightly. But poor land-use-decisions, which reduce accessible nature in cities, do far more damage to the environment than do children."
As open space shrinks, overuse increases. ...typical development methods favor decapitated hills, artificial landscaping, yards the size of gravesites, and few natural play areas. The disappearance of accessible open space escalates the pressure on those few natural places that remain. Local flora is trampled, fauna die or relocate, and nature-hungry people follow in their four-wheel-drive vehicles or on their motorcycles. Meanwhile, the regulatory message is clear: islands of nature that are left by the graders are to be seen, not touched.
The cumulative impact of overdevelopment, multiplying park rules, well-meaning (and usually necessary) enironmental regulations, building regulations, community covenants, and fear of litigation sends a chilling message to our children that their free-range play is unwelcome, that organized sports on manicured playing fields are the only officially sanctioned form of outdoor recreation. "We tell our kids that traditional forms of outdoor play are against the rules," says Rick [John Rick]. "Then we get on their backs when they sit in front of the TV - and then we tell them to go outside and play. But where? How? Join another organized sport? Some kids don't want to be organized all the time. They want to let their imaginations run; they want to see where a stream of water takes them."
Here's more if you're interested.
It's no wonder that more and more, we find ourselves taking our kids to natural places without rangers, without nature centers, without volunteers... how sad.
And how sad that the very people who will some day become the rangers, landscapers, community developers, etc.; that their love for nature, to know her intimately, is not considered just as endangered. Who will have an interest in caring for something they were never allowed to know intimately? Something that was always against the rules?
I think on Christmas it would be fun to buy a case of Louv's books and drop them off as presents at every nature center. It should be mandatory reading for all employees!
On a more positive note, here's a cute video from this week of the kids playing with their sticks. Thank God we haven't run out of them yet :)