Bringing Nature Back

I opened the window in my bedroom and plopped down on my bed at four in the afternoon. The sun was shining and the chirpings of songbirds tweeted in the nearby trees. It was a rare day in suburban Chicago, as the weather actually agreed to stay pleasant. With my back to the window, I stared at my laptop’s illuminated screen and began clicking around the interwebs.

After about an hour of reading and sharing posts on Facebook, an image of friends and I hiking in the Panamanian jungle appeared on my screen. I paused and immediately became aware of the irony of my situation. Here I was, in bed in the late afternoon, accomplishing absolutely nothing while the natural world outside called my name. The birds were still chirping, the sun was still shining: why had I not gone outside? I shut my laptop, grabbed my hammock and a book, and headed outdoors to enjoy what was left of the day.

When the hammock was strung, I plopped in and listened to the breeze as it rustled the leaves of the cottonwood and willow trees that I hung between. As I lay there I thought to myself, “How lucky am I to be able to go outside and experience nature?” But was this really nature? Does nature include the built environment that spans for miles throughout suburbia? Can nature really exist in an urban sprawl setting? I hope so.

Does nature include the built environment that spans for miles throughout suburbia? Can nature really exist in an urban sprawl setting?

As I pondered these thoughts, I looked back to my life in Durango, Colorado, where I had been studying adventure education. The beauty of Southern Colorado allowed me to watch the sunset from Perins Peak behind the many mountain ridges in the area, kayak on the Animas River, climb X-Rock in the mid-afternoon, and enjoy morning strolls on Main Street to read by the river. But is the only difference between Durango, a small college town in southern Colorado, and suburban Chicago that Durango has more natural adventure opportunities? Or is there something else missing?

We live in a time where technological advancement is at an all-time high. New gadgets and gizmos are being released practically every day. While technology itself is not destroying nature, how we use it affects how we interact with nature. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv discusses what he calls Nature-Deficit Disorder. This is not a medical term but a phrase used to describe how children and adults today have lost connection with the natural world, in most part due to technological advancement such as iPhones, Netflix, and video games. I fall victim to this too. The failure to connect with nature is no singular person or group of people’s fault. It is our collective fault that we created a world in which greed and immediate gratification take precedence.

This leads me to believe that we need to change our behavior when it comes to technology.

More and more we are seeing studies being completed that highlight the benefits of nature; that it boosts our creativity, rests our brain, and improves our overall health. This leads me to believe that we need to change our behavior when it comes to technology. Obviously technology has its advantages, but we need to strike a balance. We need to explore what we don’t know about nature and technology in more depth, the benefits of both, and how they can relate with each other. We need to answer the question: “How can we build communities so that nature and technology are built in tandem, and so that urbanization no longer becomes sprawl?”

As I lay there in my bed, again with the birds chirping behind me, I made it a point to get outside. Nature exists here in suburban Chicago. It may not be the same as it is in Durango, but it is nature all the same. It’s time to reconcile with nature.

I crouched in solitude as I looked over this marsh located in Chain O’Lakes State Park in Northern Illinois, on a grizzly day in April. Ducks swam into the reeds, and the clouds threatened to let the rain stream from their pockets. I took a deep breath and tasted the air. This was one of only a few natural areas I could find in this region of the state. Unfortunately, due to the lack of natural boundaries and poor planning, the Chicago region has turned into a place of rapid urbanization and sprawl.

Photo by author

Jeromy Slaby is the founder and project manager of Sonderers Magazine. He is also a freelance writer and photographer who specializes in travel and politics. He is currently working on receiving a BA in adventure education from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. See more of his work here.