Jani Kaaro is a scientific journalist, a researcher and encyclopedist, and he has some of the most insightful columns that I have ever read, time after time. I'm going to translate a few of his articles, if you have time and interest, check it out, you won't be disappointed. This one is about something close to all us skiers - nature and our relationship with it.
Bring Back Tarzan
We all crave the past. Now we should eat like our Stone Age ancestors, as in how people ate before the invention of farming. We should also move as much as the hunter-gatherers – or at least as much as people moved before the automobile. If we lived like our predecessors, we wouldn’t be fat, diabetic and neurodegenerated.
These claims might be true. At the same time I am puzzled why no one seems to mention the “third thing” that our ancestors had lots of, but we have even less. That is to say our ancestors woke up in the middle of lush forests; they breathed in the smell of trees and the oceans; they slept under the twinkling lights of the stat-lit skies. For nearly two million years our species had nothing else than nature itself, and we were, essentially, a part of it ourselves.
That is why I ask: what if Nature is as essential to us humans as the Stone Aged nutrition or the hunter-gatherer’s motion-propelled life? Without Nature things start to go awry.
My childhood took place in a regular suburban area. At the end of the street was a small patch of forestry, too small for a small boy to get lost in, and filled with most wondrous climbing trees and boulders to cling onto.
My greatest hero was Tarzan, The King of Apes! Friend to all animals and protector of nature and freedom. I dreamt myself to visions of fantasies, where I was Tarzan’s son. As my own son is now reaching that age of Tarzan’s son, I’m pretty assured that the time I spent in that small patch of woods was more important than anything I learned from school.
Nature was a place for me to step outside of my being. In there, this ADD infected kid and problem youngster in school became a true Son of the Forest, all senses tingling and ready to receive, to explore, to learn and to test and try without end. Looking at the woods for what it was, nothing really happened there nor were there any dangerous animals in trees, yet the place was in a constant state of change. The wind rattled the treetops, in the fall you could hear leafs crunching under your feet and after a rainstorm the woods were filled with the wildest scents.
What if these sensual experiences are more than childhood memories? What if they are a part of what are our brains and our whole beings need to function and develop normally? What if our brains are expecting a bird’s song, the smell of an incoming storm or tasting wood sorrels in the forest? What if our senses have adapted to these things and get mixed signals when replaced by the audiovisuals of Playstation and plastic? I’m saying what if, but… what if?
I can’t cite any real research on the effects of the nature on human development as there are none. Still, we can learn something by reading between the lines.
A ten-year research in an US hospital showed, that if a patient’s view outside the window showed a park instead of a brick wall, the patients healed and recuperated much quicker. In an US prison, the prisoners facing farmland views were 24% less sick than prisoners facing the inner yard.
In other studies, people’s physiological reactions after a stressful situation have balanced and smoothed down quicker if they’ve had pictured of forests, meadows and fields to watch instead of people and objects.
The studies with animals have pointed the same way. Just by watching fish swim calms people and lowers blood pressure. When apathetic Alzheimer patients were let to watch fish in an aquarium during lunch, they were more energized and began eating more.
Researchers also have quite strong evidence that pets protect their owners from cardiac arrests. Stroking pets limits exactly the high blood pressure brought on by social pressure, the kind where most medication cannot really help.
The most standing argument for nature is children with ADHD and ADD. There is a strong backing with research and studies, that just being in the midst of nature has a calming effect and helps them think more clearly. A 15-20 -minute stroll in the forest eases the effects of ADHD as much as a dose of Ritalin.
The same effect doesn’t come from soccer, running, climbing or other motor-based sports, as the results are tightly knit with nature. These results don’t simply apply to ADHD-kids – all children who are out in the wilds regularly face less psychological stress.
There are many other studies around, but they all say the same thing. We come from nature. Nature does good for us. Inside our minds is an ancient mind, one that does not crave McDonald’s, Internets, Nintendos or Hoblobs. It is as satisfied hearing the waves draw in as it has always been.
With this column, I’m not looking towards new nature protection areas or more and better teaching in biology. More likely I’m shilly-shallying green oases in the corners of projects and the freedom of children to play around in those places. Cops and Robbers in the nearby forest. Indians and Cowboys in the desolated sandpit. Building huts in trees or right under them. Wading through the river’s turn with boots filled with water. Without these experiences, within a few generations we won’t even have anyone wanting to visit a single nature protection site.
Now that my own son is at this certain age where I had hoped he would find his own relations to the his own small woods, I have starkly noticed how “less” is sometimes truly “more”. When I was a kid, we had no computers or video games. But now, we have computers, Xboxes, Wiis, Playstations and Angry Birds to eat up our children’s time and attention. The small bugs, newts or other interesting creatures found other rocks in a forest have no chance to compete with overly stimulating game experiences.
I believe that this is a grand problem. We are, right at this moment, raising a generation that knows everything one can check from Google, but is devoid of mostly the experience itself. Like philosopher Edward Reed said: “Something is terribly wrong in a society, which makes massive investments to offer all of its members with all possible information about every possible thing, yet does nothing to encourage people to explore those things by themselves”.
Kids won’t learn anything good by cramming in data. They have to get their hands in the dirt, dig out the worms with their own fingers and think, which head is the tail-end? After that they’ll know something about dirt and earthworms that Google or no school book can provide. Would Charles Darwin ever have imagined his Evolution Theory, if he had sat in front of a computer instead of visiting the Galapagos Islands?
Read it or don't, your choice.