Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dropped Calls from Mother Nature

The word biophilia has been around for a long time, but has currently been made popular by naturalist Edward Wilson. It simply suggests that we humans have an instinctive bond with other living things, meaning nature. Along with this theory, books are popping up about "nature deficit disorder," a real problem in children as well as adults. This lack of interaction with the natural world is resulting in physical and mental health issues as well as a disregard for our fellow residents on this planet. Technology and heavier workloads in tough economic times are both contributors, resulting in a lack of time and interest in getting outside. I also believe a lack of parental encouragement is a component in preventing our kids from getting outdoors.

I grew up collecting leaves in the fall and pressing  them between wax paper, looking for the Big Dipper and the North Star, hiking through patches of woods, catching fireflies, spending every possible minute outdoors till the dreaded call from my mother echoed through the darkness to come indoors. This created my passion for the natural world and in turn a desire to capture it with paint and paper.

This blog began with a reference to field sketching, so indulge me please while I talk a bit more on this subject. It is a great way to reconnect with nature. When you spend time outdoors drawing a tree or bird or flower, you begin to see what makes that life form so extraordinary. Seeing = learning = caring = protecting. Everyone wins.

It takes real courage to learn something new, and I am grateful to those willing to spend a couple of hours with a stranger in hot, humid weather. What I am seeing are transformations. Students are noticing things they hadn't seen before. And those who say they can't draw are realizing they can produce a meaningful sketch along with lasting memories of the beauty of this barrier island. Sketching in nature is also meditative, offering a break from life's obstacles. I always hope people will continue sketching when they return home and perhaps encourage family and friends to give it a try.

I think kids today as well as adults are missing out on a lot of fun that easily would rival the newest video game. So go explore a stream bed, lay on the grass and look at the clouds, grab a field guide and identify the birds that frequent your backyard, or pick up a pencil and pad of paper and go sketch something. I promise you will have a good time and develop skills that will last a lifetime. There are tons of fabulous books on the subject suggesting great activities for all ages.

This coming week will be the perfect opportunity to enjoy one of nature's most spectacular displays. Grab a blanket and lay out under the night sky to see the Perseid Meteor Showers. Peak times are August 11, 12 and 13. You can see upwards of 60 "falling stars" an hour. Google the event for lots more information. (FYI : A meteor is a tiny piece of material moving through space at high speed which becomes incandescent when it meets the earth's atmosphere.)

For anyone interested, I thought I'd share with you what I take into the field when I go sketching. But remember, all you really need is a pencil or pen and a piece of paper. It's not about the equipment, it's about using your eyes.

hardbound, spiral sketchbook
brimmed hat
watercolor pencils
Pitt Artist pens
watersoluble graphite pencils
Prang watercolor set and brushes
cup to hold water
paper towels
bag to pick up any trash I see
bug spray
water bottle
(all tucked into my Ameribag backpack)
and my Walkstool 

PS : My oldest son was born during the peak of the Perseid Meteor Showers. As the heavens rejoice in his birth, I will be watching the celebration wondering how I got so lucky.

"Note on a page with a hole burned through it : I saved this star for you but it got away." - Dave Masons


  1. How was the star gazing this year? Did the moon cooperate?

  2. Hi Ted. The moon is a bit of a problem in regards to star gazing so the best time to see the meteors is in the early morning hours. Check them out next weekend.

  3. This was a great post, Elizabeth, and I couldn't agree more! I am looking forward to the cooler days of fall to get my boys out exploring nature, as the extreme heat of this summer has limited our outdoor time (but we still ventured out when we could!)