WHITNEY: Bring nature to your children on purpose

Surrounded by plate glass and a definitive concrete jungle, my friend Georgia introduced us to her thesis project while we sipped coffee in a Chicago high rise.

Georgia, a Masters of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Georgia and my former roommate, made the trip to the city have her photography critiqued by some local gallery owners. We decided to meet her there and we got to see what she’s been working on for the past three-ish years down south.

The setting was perfect in such an imperfect way. Our friend’s condo is the kind of super urbane space you expect to find in a metropolitan city, and Georgia’s work is all about nature and how it will find us no matter what.

To borrow from her artist’s statement about her project, titled “Flora Non Fauna”: “We fight to find some measure of success at keeping the wild out yet we still crave it in our lives. It’s in the tablecloth with strawberry vines, a patterned dress with yellow flowers, an increased saturation, a carpet mimicking what we constantly mow down, four little bugs all lined up in a row.”

And sure enough, there are photos of carefully cut rose stems, a porch carpeted with bristly green Astroturf, walls covered in floral damask.

The same themes emerge in “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” a book by Richard Louv. Right before my departure from my daily position at the Pioneer, a friend gave me this book and encouraged me to spend my stay-at-home days in the woods with my kid.

In his book, Louv examines the differences between his childhood and that of his and his friends’ children. While he regales his children with stories of his youth spent riding horses and building forts in the forest, they scratch their heads and say, “How come it was more fun when you were a kid?” (He opens the book with this question.) He also references some studies about children’s underexposure to unbridled outdoor freedom, which is slowly being replaced by organized sports, structured playscapes and artificial turf.

Not only are today’s children missing out on nature, Louv says, they know they’re missing out and they’re not sure why or how to change that.

I haven’t finished “Last Child” yet, but with each page I turn, Louv’s message weighs more on my mind, and that probably because I’ve also been thinking about Georgia’s MFA project.

My childhood and Louv’s looked quite similar. I spent my childhood in the city outside with friends, making forts in the little forest behind our neighborhood and making sand cities for our pet frogs in our backyard sandbox. We moved to the country when I was 12, and my days were filled with barn chores and hiking our mostly wooded property.

I’m wondering how to recreate that experience for my daughter today.

Right now, she alternates between her obsession with one particular “Wheels On The Bus” video on YouTube (thanks, grandma) and her desire to spend all day every day outside, only coming inside to eat if she’s dragged and bribed.

I definitely prefer and encourage the latter. In fact, my first mission after leaving my old job was to find a pair of pint-sized hiking boots. She’s only 2, so big hikes aren’t quite on the agenda yet, but we spent a lot time looking at mushrooms in the backyard and walking a little ways up Clay Cliffs, which is just a few blocks from our house.

Whether we try or not, nature will find a way into her world, as my friend’s art illustrates. But with any hope, we’ll stave of what Louv calls nature deficit disorder entirely. We’re trying to sow the seeds for a lifelong love of the outdoors that will bring nature into her life intentionally.