Losing touch with real deal | VailDaily.com

Losing touch with real deal

Alan Braunholtz

“A walk in the mountains is worth a mountain of books” – John Muir.

Small copses of trees, intricate muddy streams and the ubiquitous falling down hedgerows of England’s countryside provide the fabric for most of my memories of childhood play. Secret hollows, ponds full of newts, low-limbed oaks and hills dotted with burrows became the backdrop to youthful curiosity and games.

It’s sad to return to one’s childhood haunts. They’re mostly gone, replaced with a never-ending sprawl of concrete in some form. Nostalgia has been squashed by the bulldozer of progress.

It’s sadder still to play with my nephew. He’s more connected with computer games, TV programs and commercials than what remains of the natural world around him. He drags me into a virtual world of Game Boys and I drag him out to the park. It’s tough these days. Few parents let their children roam around outdoors unsupervised. It doesn’t feel safe anymore.

I’m biased, but I think that given the chance most children find the real world of nature fascinating.

Recently I watched children at a ski school barbecue. They inevitably ended up crawling through the snow, hiding in the trees, throwing snowballs, watching a few opportunistic hungry squirrels, etc. Children, play and nature go hand in hand.

Self-organized play teaches a lot. It’s where I learned my love of the great outdoors. I worry that future generations will let this resource slip through their fingers without knowing what they’ve lost.

Critics accuse environmentalists of being elitist, of “trying to preserve something only a few intellectuals care about,” preventing progress for all with their own selfish desires. This argument is usually made by those who stand to profit the most and have often used the proceeds to buy themselves a ranch or coastal home in some naturally beautiful protected area, safe in the knowledge that the less desirable aspects of progress won’t be visiting their neighborhood.

With fewer opportunities for children to explore the natural world by themselves, school programs and summer camps become more and more important to learn about nature and yourself.

Ecology joins everything together. Nothing is isolated in nature. Good outdoor education mimics this, linking the sciences but also history, literature, art and ultimately yourself to them. You become grounded with a significant place on this earth.

Heck, if the breeze from a butterfly’s wings provides the seed for a hurricane, then imagine what you can do in the world.

The Bush administration argues that outdoor and environmental education programs are ineffective. Research data shows the opposite, with students engaged in them performing better on standardized tests, having fewer discipline issues and a greater enthusiasm for learning.

Amazing what teamwork, independent thought and a feeling of being connected to the world and society can do.

These students may not be the unquestioning “roll over and buy” teen consumer that industry wants, though. Budget crunches and cutbacks are taking their toll, especially on programs at challenged inner city schools that need them the most.

Up here we are lucky to have the Gore Range Natural Science School, a non-profit organization that offers tons of activities for schools, summer camps and adults. I always promise to attend one course of theirs in the summer, then kick myself when I fall victim to work schedules. Maybe this year.

They have a yurt up at Eagle’s Nest that is well worth a browse around for an eclectic overview of the life around us. If you have a little more time, take the 3 p.m. snowshoe hike from the yurt. It adds a change of pace, perspective and depth to these mountains we ski on.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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