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The nature deficit

Published: March 21, 2013
Section: Opinions


As a first-year student, one of the first things I noticed about residing on a college campus is the increased amount of time I spent outdoors. Living in a dorm, we are required to brave the elements to feed ourselves, go to classes, and participate in activities. This is quite the contrast to the high school experience, where the most outdoor time you might have gotten was the trip from the car to the school building, or those few minutes outside waiting for the bus.

The truth is, we are a quite sedentary generation. It’s not entirely our fault because all of the fun technology available to us that makes the indoors so appealing, but that doesn’t mean we can live our lives solely in front of a screen. America has the worst reputation for this: we are the fattest country in the world. Yet, we give ourselves this bad name. Fast food, an overabundance of technology and a disconnect from nature are the ingredients to a blue ribbon in obesity.

What our generation is failing to realize is the true benefit of nature. The outdoor world is soothing and calming—time outdoors helps us focus. With the exception of locations prone to air pollution, fresh air is much healthier. There are countless amounts of chemicals found in our homes. Couches used to be doused with flame-retardants that can be harmful to your health. Though most of the dangerous chemicals have been phased out of manufacturing, the danger is never totally inescapable. Most manufactured items contain one chemical or another that you should not be breathing in.

The outdoor world helps children develop. Young kids learn better and absorb more during time spent playing and learning in the environment. What better way than to learn about construction and to earn the satisfaction of hard work than to build a treehouse? Isn’t the best way to learn about animals and plants to be face to face with them in their natural habitat? Life should not be lived only within the carefully constructed walls that divide us from our natural habitat.

Parents are often wary of allowing their kids to play outside for obvious reasons. The world is a dangerous place. Not all families are able to live in a “safe” location, and tragedies occur even in neighborhoods hailed as “family friendly.” The media is always inundating us with issues of violence and kidnappings and other atrocities. Not all families have access to parks, or the ability to get there. But nature is not dangerous­—people are. The outdoor world begs to be explored, and while we should approach it with caution, it is truly worth the risk.

Nothing is more peaceful to me when I am stressing about a paper or an exam than just taking a walk around campus. There are so many parts of campus that beg to be explored. The Sachar Woods, named after Brandeis’ first president, are a wonderful place to take a stroll, especially if it’s a beautiful day. In 2009 the Greening the Ivory Tower class made a map of the woods and its trails, available online for student perusal and exploration. In addition, there is a web page from the biology department detailing all the edible plants on campus, including much information about the species of plant life to be found in Sachar woods. This information is a gold mine to any aspiring explorer—which I would hope would be the majority of us. We should all want to explore nature more; not only is the natural world our original home, but it is the only place we can really be truly at peace. Brandeis is our home away from home for four years, so why not get to know everything it has to offer?

Nature is the miracle we’re searching for. It’s the key to happier and healthier generations. Why can’t hiking through the woods be as much of an adventure as any video game? You cannot have better graphics than real life. Even if you can only appreciate nature in fair weather, then at least adventure outdoors on beautiful days. It is definitely understandable to stay indoors when it rains or snows or hails. I even understand that it can be too sunny. What I don’t understand is people who refuse to take in the gift of the life around us. This is college: Take advantage of all of the opportunities around you. Breathe it in. Just like the fresh air, it will only last for so long.