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Why Children Need Wild Places

by Gary Paul Nabhan & Stephen Trimble

Pub Date: April 6th, 1994
ISBN: 0-8070-8524-3
Publisher: Beacon

 Meditations and personal anecdotes from naturalists/hiking buddies/fathers Nabhan (Gathering the Desert, 1985) and Trimble. ``Children do need wildness,'' the authors argue: not just trees and grass, but open, unpeopled places, where they can ``nibble on icicles and watch ants...lie back and contemplate clouds and chickadees.'' As parents, we should provide our young with ``direct exposure to a variety of wild plants and animals,'' including the less cuddly types, like snakes and lizards. Instead, we plop them down in front of TV sets and books (which, astonishingly, the authors find equally insidious), exercise them in concrete and plastic playgrounds which provide insufficient opportunities for building ``nest-like refuges,'' and send them to schools which prepare them only ``for careers to be spent within buildings.'' As a result of this alienation from nature, the authors argue, our children are myopic, stunted, haunted by fears of the ``lizardness within us.'' Nabhan and Trimble write seductively of the lures of the Western landscape, but some readers may chafe at their narrow conception of ``wilderness.'' (There are wild places back East, after all, and don't leaf-cutter ants resides in cities, too?) Most of the authors' personal anecdotes are touching and provocative, especially Nabhan's childhood reminiscence of his not-so-innocent role in the murder of a lizard. But occasionally, the authors lose sight of their topic and drift into mawkish self-absorption (``Talking with the woman I love about the places we pass through makes the experiences warmer, simpler...''). Readers are not likely to disagree with the authors' central premise and will probably enjoy the lush writing, but may be turned off by their anti-urban, anti-intellectual prejudices and their preoccupation with their own circumstances. A convincing case for the necessity of exposing children to nature, sometimes marred by the authors' narrow vision and smug tone. (10 pages b&w photographs--not seen)