Delaware News

A walk in the park

Nature books edify when temps drop


As a child, while enjoying my summers in northern Wisconsin, I always dreamed of spending the winter there. I envisioned myself tucked into our cabin by the (frozen) lake, lighting the wood stove every morning, and tromping through deep snow to drink in the pine-forest surroundings.

It never happened; the closest I got to living that dream was attending one year of college in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It snowed from September to May, skiing was a phys-ed class, and I actually borrowed a pair of snowshoes for the year.

This winter is reminding me of both my childhood wish and my UP experience. This is one cold winter! So, while I still encourage everyone to bundle up and get out in the parks, I'm here to offer an alternative.

There is a whole world of nature on the bookshelves, ready to inspire, educate and entertain.

In the interest of research, I picked out three titles last month: Hey Ranger by Jim Burnet; Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen; and The Nature Principal by Richard Louv.

What do these three books have in common, besides giving me something to do when I wasn't walking along park trails in below-zero weather?

They provide varying looks at the natural world, making me feel, respectively: amused at how nature can get the best of people; worried that the world of my grandchildren will not be as beautiful as the one I've enjoyed; and hopeful that people might learn to put down their cellphones and reconnect with the outdoors.

I'll start with the funny stuff. I love Burnet's book. A 30-year national parks ranger, he has great stories to tell about canoeists who bring a "dead" rattlesnake into their boat, misadventures in rock climbing, the hazards of feeding "friendly" skunks, and what happens when one hiker tells the other, "Go ahead, I'll catch up!" Tucked within the comedy are descriptions of the scenery and wildlife that make the parks so special.

Hansen's book is not as easy to like. The title caught my eye; I have a grandchild, and storms do seem to be getting more intense, so right there, I was hooked.

To be honest, the climate change debate has always left me feeling overwhelmed. On one hand, an increase in average temperature by a degree or two does not seem like that big a deal. But on the other hand, I've seen first-hand what rising water levels can do. Norfolk, Va., where my Navy son formerly was stationed, is experiencing unprecedented flooding on a regular basis. And the jewel that is Venice, Italy -- where I have visited -- truly is in danger of being lost to the sea.

I don't know what the future holds, nor do I understand the science and politics behind decisions currently being made. Storms of my Grandchildren, did, however, shed some light on the subject.

Louv's book, The Nature Principal, was a joy to read, partly because his pure love and passion for the natural world reflect my own, and partly because he managed to combine personal anecdotes with scientific studies to keep my attention all the way through.

Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder" in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, which launched a movement aimed to get children outdoors as a way to improve their physical and mental health.

His new book goes further, coming right out and saying that if we all put down the remote and got out into nature, we would not only be healthier and happier, but we would be motivated to build more sustainable communities. And Louv offers practical -- and simple -- ways to do just that.

As different as these three books are, combined, they provide a broad look at our natural world: the scientific and political forces that affect it, the fears for its future, the possibilities and the beauty.

And they bolster in me the resolve to make sure that my little 4-year-old granddaughter -- and all the generations to come -- can enjoy their walks in the park as much as I do mine.

Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Dela-ware County.