Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day

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I heard on public radio part of a program Monday about how much time children are spending outside. They cited a study that claimed children nowadays spend only an average of 14 minutes a day outside. 14 minutes a day! Most parents specified a fear of abduction for the reason why they don't let their children play outside but research has shown that there are only a little over 100 child abductions per year as opposed to over two thousand child deaths while being in a car with their parents. Latch-key kids are told to come home, stay inside, and lock the door. When children are allowed out to play, they are bundled up in all sorts of protective gear with adults present to mediate any arguments that may come up or to immediately come to the rescue of any child in distress and yet unsupervised play is how children learn leadership skills, problem solving, develop courage and self reliance. It is how we learn to compromise and cooperate, build muscles and lean strong bodies. It is how we learn about the world.

Tuesday I saw an article on FB about how our Western culture is killing off our gut bacteria. Comparisons with indigenous peoples with no exposure to modern medicine, food, and culture show that they have 50% more ecological diversity in their microbiome. Our western guts have lost species that help metabolize carbohydrates, that act as prebiotics, that communicate with our immune system. As cultures become more 'western', they begin to lose gut bacteria species and start suffering from chronic illnesses connected to the immune system. We may be living longer but we aren't living healthy as the long list of pharmaceuticals advertized on TV points out. I've been compiling a list over the last several months...28 and counting.

Our microbiome is acquired by contact with the natural world, not by living in a sterilized environment. Certainly clean water and sanitation is important for healthy life but we develop our immune systems, especially as children, by being exposed to germs and dirt. It's not just our general health that is affected by our lack of contact with the natural world. There are microbes in the soil that have a direct effect on our feelings of well being and general contentment. We are not separate from this earth.

We have insulated ourselves from the outdoors. We make our homes air tight and sterilize them with anti-bacterials, conditioning the air so that it never varies and never lets in fresh air. We have covered the ground with concrete. We don't even let it get dark and the resultant light pollution means there are generations of people that have never seen the Milky Way.

We are animals that evolved in the natural world and yet we are trying to separate ourselves from it. We are the culprits in the largest extinction of life forms on this planet since the dinosaurs. We have poisoned our air, our water, our soil, and our food. Our oceans are full of trash. We have destroyed countless ecosystems and now the planet is heating up at an alarming rate.

What does this mean to us? We may be living longer, but as mentioned before, we are not living healthy. We suffer from depression and obesity and other chronic illnesses from the lack of nutrition in our food and contact with the earth. We have become insane with fear and hatred and suspicion.

So, on this Earth Day, go outside. Take your shoes off and walk barefoot in the dirt and grass. Plant something. Sit by a river or stream and just listen. Establish a brush pile or a wild space in your yard. Nurture nature.

You will feel so much better for it.


  1. i agree that we need exposure to natural things, dirt, plants, animal hair. without it, we become 'allergic' to everything. our overuse of antibiotics in food animals, our own medication, anti-bacterial soaps and cleaners, well, we're just dooming ourselves.

  2. I agree with every word you wrote here. I think about all of this a lot. Yesterday I let the boys "hunt for treasure" in the yard and driveway and because this house is so old, there are old pieces of crockery and bottles everywhere in the ground and they dig these up and keep them. They get filthy here and collect eggs and feed chickens and eat carrots from the garden and I am doing everything I can to make sure they get time outside to get dirty and sit in trees to wonder and think and imagine.

  3. We haven't got that far yet. Still our kids play outdoor alone, without feeling unsafe. Though kids spend to much time indoor over here too. Fortunately, my boys are passionate skiers, which means they have an outdoor activity which is even more fun than Playstation >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  4. I have to come inside today and turn on the heat--it's cold again in NE Ohio. But, my granddaughter will go to the nursery and work in the dirt from four to six. I only seem to get the thirteen year old out alone by weeding or summer camp.

  5. I took my walk outside today - and boy was it blustery! I was never an outdoorsy child - didn't like to get my hands dirty - but I still spent a lot of time playing in the yard when I was a kid. What else was there to do? Well, at least until I learned to read :)

  6. I intend to take your advice and go on a nice walk after dinner.

  7. I agree, Ellen.
    If you think about it, we've reversed and gone back to cave dwelling. Concrete, hermetically sealed, caves.

  8. I love this post so much. You are so right! My brother and I used to play outside all the time, by ourselves, in the dirt, and I worry about kids nowadays who don't have that opportunity.

    I have coworkers who are horrified that we let Olga sleep with us, or that we feed her off our dishes. I mean, people are just insane with this fear of germs. We WASH the dishes, for god's sake.

  9. went out and cleaned up a camping area I enjoy with a group. Found a lot of junk people leave behind or toss in the woods, filling a truck with bags from about 25 acres.

  10. This post needs to be on billboards all over this country!!
    Probably most other countries, too! So wonderful to have someone put my own thoughts into words. Thank you, Ellen.

  11. Alternatively, you could come for a visit for a day.
    I’ll show you round my world, a world of meadows, wild flowers, trees, streams and rivers and stars at night.

    we have all that but we have none of the ‘amenities’ of W modern town.

    But even in this earthly paradise there are few children outdoors playing. even in our little village idiot parents fear the bogeyman when it is a fact that most children who get hurt are hurt by someone they know, someone in their immediate family.

    A mad world.

  12. You are preaching to the choir here. I think getting dirty is essential to not fearing the great outdoors. I did Google child predators in my daughters neighborhood when she moved there and I am glad she does not let her children play outside unsupervised...but we can do that here, except we do watch them at the river.

  13. I'm all for the outdoors...
    but I wonder if there is less skin cancer. I also wonder about teenage DUIs. Hard to crash your Gran Turismo car.


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