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Biophilia 🌱

by Dr. Oakleigh Thorne, II

I want to tell you about a new word for you to learn. It’s “biophilia.” What does it mean? It is simply the idea that you are not normal unless you have regular contact with nature. You might say “of course… what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that more and more children grow up attached to computers and computer games, ipods, TV, and all kinds of indoor “techno” activities, so they have almost no contact with nature whatsoever!

Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods calls this condition “NDD: nature deficit disorder,” or lack of contact with nature. I agree with him that this is a serious problem. His slogan is “leave no child inside!” Get them outside to play in and have direct contact with nature.

I have written before about the fact that when I was a boy I was lucky to live in the country surrounded by many acres of woods, meadows, streams, and even a lake. I was indeed a “nature boy.” It helped me develop sharp powers of observation. I learned how to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything about the natural world. I found toads and turtles, caught fireflies, tasted wintergreen berries, felt and smelled moist moss, saw beautiful sunsets, listened to bird songs, and found their nests. This gave me a very special sensitivity that I otherwise would not have had.

As Louv points out, with many children who have been identified with such problems as ADD, ADHD, or mild autism, these symptoms often disappear completely when kids are allowed to play outside in nature. Nature has all sorts of special healing qualities. Boulder County has many opportunities to experience nature: from neighborhood parks, to open spaces, to vast wilderness areas. We should appreciate and enjoy all that we have near and around us here.

The famous biologist, E. O. Wilson of Harvard and my friend Stephen Kellert of Yale edited an entire book called Biophilia. More recently Kellert and Louv have written about biophilic design. This is a very important concept. It points out that we need to bring nature much more into all our urban and suburban architecture and development. Wherever we live, we need to bring nature closer to us in as many ways as possible. Instead of a big manicured lawn, we can plant trees, bushes, shrubs, and wild plants that attract birds and other wildlife.

At our Thorne Nature Experience headquarters in east Boulder, we are surrounded by native bushes and trees. We look out at Sombrero Marsh, a natural wetland. Right next to our building, we even have a “mini-wetland” that was donated to us by Mike Woods. It has a pump that circulates water, so that we have a waterfall and a small stream that feeds into a pond the size of a big dining room table. We have planted and allowed bulrushes, cattails, and other wild plants to grow in and around the pond. Its bottom is rich with decayed vegetation that has allowed a whole variety of insects to live, such as dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, water beetles, and back-swimmer bugs. This is indeed biophilic design!

So you’ve learned a new word and all about it. From now on, always be aware of how important nature is to you!

Dr. Thorne is founder and honorary president of Thorne Ecological Institute in Boulder. They have helped “connect kids to nature” for more than 55 years. For more information about Thorne Natural Science School classes for children, check or e-mail or call (303) 499-3647.

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