Take a Hike

A thought-provoking evening with David Suzuki and Richard Louv.

One day last summer when I was pregnant with our first child, my partner Shawn told me a story about a young family he saw on the sidewalk, holding their child up to a tree that was in a concrete bed. They were explaining to their girl what a tree was, what the bark and leaves were, and why trees were important. My initial thought was, ‘how sad that they had to use a tree in a concrete planter on a sidewalk of a busy downtown street to teach their child that lesson.’ Since then, time has passed and our daughter is now 6 months old. She is crawling, standing, wants to touch everything, and then puts everything she can get a hold of into her mouth.

A couple of weeks ago she had her first encounter with a tree. Guess what? It was an ornamental tree, made of cloth and plastic, in a restaurant. Now I get it. Even though there is a large park with trees, gardens, a petting zoo, and a river only ten minutes away, you can’t pick the moment your baby will want to learn something new. In fact, since the restaurant incident I have spent every moment that I can find to introduce my little girl to real flowers, leaves and tree bark – wherever I can find them!

That is why I was so thrilled to attend “Take a Hike,” a talk with broadcaster David Suzuki and celebrated author Richard Louv at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the Weston Family Learning Centre on June 14th. The talk was presented by The David Suzuki Foundation to introduce a new educational program, “Connecting with Nature,” and to challenge children, educators and parents to spend more time in nature – specifically 30 minutes a day for 30 days (the 30x30 challenge). The recently renovated venue, with evening sunlight that streamed down into the atrium from the treed avenue above, its polished concrete floors, and glass railings, was an excellent backdrop. The atmosphere was intimate and friendly.

Richard Louv and David Suzuki were introduced by Faisal Moola from the David Suzuki Foundation, who started the talk by asking David and Richard to describe their own first experiences with nature. David recalled buying his first tent with his father and Richard talked about building a tree house in the woods with childhood friends. Both speakers casually related memories from their youth and described in detail their favourite fishing holes, cornfields, and streams.

The conversation then turned towards the main event: interactive discussion about the urgent need to connect kids (and grown-ups) with nature and the amazing physical, psychological, and emotional health benefits that nature provides. Faisal continued to pose pertinent questions to both David and Richard and deftly covered the broader aspects of why urban parents have difficulty getting their children involved with nature, in part because the media creates fear of the outdoors by unfairly exploiting the “danger stranger” phenomena. David Suzuki expressed his concerns that humans like to revel in their own cleverness, and that creations such as Facebook, video games and other modern technology can interfere with our relationship with nature. Richard Louv voiced his belief that it will fall to children to ask their parents to take care of our planet, and to make the necessary changes to our culture that will foster a healthy future.

The highlight of the talk, for me, was near the end of the evening when the discussion shifted to the discussion of solutions to remedy our human estrangement from nature. Following the discussion there was a question and answer period, a draw for an original piece of art created by David Suzuki himself, and then a book signing by Richard Louv.

Long after we are gone, the planet and the universe will continue to live on.

The take-home message from the event was, “don’t worry about nature because nature can take of itself.” Long after we are gone, the planet and the universe will continue to live on. Instead we should worry about the future of human beings. We should look to past generations and ask them what they think of the dramatic changes to nature humans have experienced over the past century. If we want to be here many generations from now, we must create a new paradigm and stop perpetuating the idea that care for the environment is antithetical to a healthy economy.

We can do this by presenting a positive image of the future that includes a healthy planet that can be used as a motivational guide for our children to help save humans from their own demise. If done correctly, we can turn the old paradigm into something new and compelling, a “self-replicating social change.” And what should we do in the meantime? Take in nature with your family, wherever you can find it: at the park, in your own backyard veggie garden, in the woods, or even in downtown green-spaces. It doesn’t matter. Just take a hike.