I complain every time we have a family dinner at my sister’s house. Don’t get me wrong, I like my family and everything, but she moved with her daughter and son way out to the remotest parts of central Ohio and it takes forever to get there. But certain benefits are hard to measure.

This is her son, my nephew, with the smaller of their two Great Danes in the background. I’ll try to spare you the ‘cutest-nephew-in-the-world, proud uncle’ stuff.


The thing is he’s holding a big, huge bullfrog that he “rescued” from the big Great Dane, and returned to the pond in their front yard.

They live “out there.”

They also raise Alpacas, have two (or maybe three) other dogs, I think at least one cat, two horses (one is very tiny, as is one of their dogs), deer running through the back yard, and open space. Lots of open space.

Oh, and no one trying to steal them from their yard.

Neither my nephew nor his sister suffers from one of the latest designer disorders being diagnosed in today’s youth – Nature Deficit Disorder.

They are out there!

When I was a kid, there were fields all around where I lived. And a pond across the street. I was almost never home. I always came home, according to my mother, “smelling like a puppy dog.” Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, I had to undress at the door and straight to the shower at least half the times I came home.

And we had *adventures* - real adventures!

One time, in the pond across the street, we saw a huge “Chinese fish.” Well, that’s what we called it anyway. We used to fish over there practically every day for the schools of Bluegill (Sunfish) that would engage in a such a frenzy, we didn’t need the usual Wonder Bread ball on the hook – they’d grab it anyway! We caught record numbers. And we took them home and put them in the bathtub in the basement until we got yelled at and had to take them back. They weren’t big, and only a little exciting. 

But the Chinese Fish… it was *huge*! We didn’t see it very often that Summer – just a few times.

One day, my (other) sister was fishing with a K-Mart plastic pole – you know the kind with the gold string. I was trying to catch frogs (of course), along the bank. She wasn’t paying attention when all of a sudden, her pole went flying out of her hand into the Pond (we called it a Lake)!

It sat there for a minute, floating since it was all cheap plastic, and then took off surfing the surface of the pond to the other shoreline… and then it turned, and headed back toward us. By then we both knew it was the Chinese Fish. It was very exciting! It came back and got stuck in the plants choking the edge of the pond.

And it was stuck.

And one of us had to get it!

So, I took off my shoes and socks and, having never thought twice about wading into the Lake before, carefully and quietly sloshed over to the pole, hoping the Chinese Fish wasn’t too close! I grabbed it and pulled it up on the shore – we were thrilled! One of us ran up and got a big, plastic trash can and brought it down to the lake and we filled it partway with water. Once we got the hook out of the Chinese Fish we put it in the trash can and it splashed all over the place.

It took both of us on either side of the makeshift bucket to get it all the way across the street and out on the driveway. Well, the Chinese Fish was surely the biggest one we had ever seen in our Lake. Since we knew we wanted to tell everyone, but we’d have to put it back, we decided to measure it! So we laid it out on the grass and got a ruler.

This was when Grandpa pulled up. Grandpa was where we got out love for fishing in the first place. He looked like an ole’ salty dog – like a fisherman. He had the pipe and everything. Grandma and Grandpa had a boat up on Lake Erie with a mobile home trailer at a trailer park on a harbor. Talk about adventure! We went up usually once or twice every summer for a few days fishing for Bass.

It really couldn’t have worked out better that Grandpa was pulling up right when we were measuring the Chinese Fish! So we were the kids jumping outside the car waiting for him to get out so we could show him…

He looked over at the mythical Chinese Fish and scowled: “What are you kids doing with that old Carp anyway?!”

Okay, so that didn’t really work out so great – though we did let the Chinese fish go. It turns out it was the first of many, many Carp – some huge – that started inhabiting the Lake across the street. I have no idea where they all came from, but we caught a bunch!

carp - Chinese Fish

By the way, Carp have ‘whiskers’ and we thought they resembled the cheesy stereotypes of Chinese men on cartoons back then. We watched cartoons. On Saturday mornings – only. We had three channels on TV – and sometimes Channel 34 (PBS). I remember when Pong came out and we played it some – but it was Pong.

We were “out there.” I know kids go outside these days. But I do not believe the majority are out there. I know I am acting like an old fart. But it’s not nothing that we have to worry so about children these days. And what’s worse, I am not sure what I think should or could be done about it. If I lived out where my sister and niece and nephew lived, I would be “out there” all the time. If they lived in the city where I do – they hardly ever would be. Too risky.

And then, there is Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). This term was apparently coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods (according to Wikipedia – which I think is Latin for “grain of salt” - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_deficit_disorder). I will admit to having just heard about this new disorder, and not having read up on it enough for any real claim to authority, but I think I like it.

When the subject of an overactive child comes up, I am quick to quip that, while nowadays they call it ADD or ADHD, when I was a kid, they called it “Shut Up Mark!” Same affliction, but generally a much different treatment!

But, these behaviors may actually be a symptom of NDD. And I can’t decide if I think it is okay, or not. 

The traditional rationale for play in children (and other species’ young, too) has often centered on the value of the behavior as it prepares youth for adult survival. Games of tag and hide-n-seek are good precursors for hunting wild game, and so on…

Parents rarely think their offspring are well-prepared. With the crazy hair and horrible music, how can anyone be as good and robust as we were/are… whatever. Obviously, Tommy Dorsey wasn’t going to prepare me to deal with life in the 70s and 80s as well as KISS and Alice Cooper did.

So, in the case of NDD, what are we preparing our children for?

It seems to me we are preparing them to raise the next generation. Children of the 1990s and 2000s were the first generation born in a computer world. I wasn’t. I can use this thing cause I got into college right when the whole computer revolution started. My dad fumbles a lot still, my nieces and nephews – phew – no contest!

But what about Nature?

When I hear stories every day about the Oil “Spill” – try “crisis” or “disaster” – in the Gulf, it makes me cry. Not many things do – that, and pictures of my fishing Grandparents!

But, I know Nature really well and that is a “big one.” It’s at least as big to Nature as 9-11 was to The United States – probably a lot bigger in long-term costs and destruction. I have been struggling to stay on topic this whole essay (clearly), but at this point I need to actually hit my fingers to not go off….

Let’s say that oil disaster actually kills most of the southern coast of the US. Let’s say a hurricane blows in this Summer and knocks over a couple more of those Titanics out there and blows things around a bit. Okay, we may luck out more than all that.

But this is only one of an astonishing array of mechanisms we have created which could, in a single stroke, change the face of Nature as we know it.

And the thing is, with our youth suffering from NDD, stuck behind their computer games and 1200 channels on their HDTVs, afraid to go outside cause of bad people and dangerous things, they’ll never know the difference.

But not my niece and nephew! Way to go, Sis!