October 7, 2010
Eared Quetzal - our grandson's "first" bird
Eared Quetzal - our grandson's "first" bird
Happy anniversary!  Five years ago today, October 7, 2005, this column made it's debut on the Environmental Page of the Arizona Republic (jimburnsphotos.com/pages/10-5-05.html).  For five years it's been, sometimes explicitly, sometimes tacitly, about getting people into the woods and having them experience nature, thereby swelling the numbers of those who care enough to get involved in conservation.  The question begged is this:  is a love of nature "nature or nurture?"

Richard Louv, in his acclaimed book Last Child In The Woods, a must read for any nature lover with children or grandchildren, argues conclusively that nurturing works even if it seems the nature may be lacking.  A fascinating journey down through four generations of my own family bears this out.  It begins with my father.

My father was career army, an outdoorsman and a hunter, and a keen observer of birdlife before the term "birder" existed.  He died in World War II before I was born, but had thought out how his legacy could be preserved in case he didn't return from the Pacific to nurture me.  One of my favorite columns from the five years deals with this (jimburnsphotos.com/pages/12-21-07.html).

My own two sons, one biological, one adopted, were introduced early on to hiking, camping, and ultimately to birding.  Neither are birders today, but one of them remains an avid outdoorsman involved in kayaking, canyoneering, and search and rescue.  Which one, you ask?  Well, you've probably seen where I'm going with this.  Let's just say the answer gives the lie to the old adage "blood is thicker than water."  Nothing is known of his biological father.

His son was also introduced by his father at an early age to hiking, camping, and  outdoor water sports, and his first bird trip was at age two when he went with us to see the Eared Quetzal in Haunted Canyon west of Globe.  He too is not a birder today but has canoed and scuba dived all over North America.  For long time readers who have followed the annual joke about "atlatls" forward from that very first column (jimburnsphotos.com/pages/messageinabottle.html), yes my grandson has fashioned and practices with one of those prehistoric weapons.  Ancient seeds flower in a modern teenager who, at the moment, is thinking of a career in oceanography.

Although my own family history says neither nature nor nurture are foolproof, much of Richard Louv's book and his hopes for rescuing kids from "nature deficit disorder" are grounded in Edward O. Wilson's Biophilia Hypothesis.  Wilson is the award winning biologist who famously said "most children have a bug period, and I never grew out of mine."  His hypothesis, simply stated, is that interaction with nature determined how we as a species have evolved and, if we lose that connection, both our planet and we as a species are endangered.

Here's the bottom line:  unplug the electronics and get your young loved ones outdoors.  It may be in their nature, but it's going to take some nurturing.