The Adventures of Nature Boy by Stacey Greenberg
Photo by Maggie Louie
In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, he defines Nature-Deficit Disorder as the cumulative effect of withdrawing nature from children's experiences. He says that it’s not just individual children, “Families too can show the symptoms -- increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention, feelings of not being rooted in the world.”
I come from a long line of city girls, but when I married a former forest ranger, and later gave birth to Nature Boy, I found myself spending almost every weekend hiking through the Old Forest trails of Overton Park. Frankly, if it weren’t for these weekly communes with nature, here in Midtown, it’s likely our resident forest ranger would have moved us all to Alaska long ago. The Forest Ranger and I are doing our best to combat NDD in our own lives.
On our most recent hike, we were specifically on a hunt for lizards. Nature Boy, now age 5, needed a lizard. Bug box in hand, we set off down one of our favorite trails that opens up near the playground on East Parkway. As we made our way down the path, The Forest Ranger started off with his usual, “Remember when a bee stung you?” speech, reminding us of the time that I ran from a bee that eventually stung Nature Boy on the ear.
“I’m completely over my fear of bees now—I’m in search of lizards!” I say. Before we can even really start looking for a lizard, Nature Boy has found a centipede and The Forest Ranger, who is now working as an Archaeologist, has found a small glass bottle dated 1927. Geronimo, my three-year-old, and I assist with the bug box and “ooh and aah” accordingly.
A few steps later and we have a millipede! The Forest Ranger laughs as we try to get it in the bug box which is full of holes small enough for it to easily climb through. I’m totally over bees, yes, but I’m not so sure about this millipede. “It stings,” The Forest Ranger says coolly. We decide to let the millipede stay put.
Some new trees have fallen since we last visited and the boys waste no time climbing along them to check out the view. Geronimo spots some low hanging vines ahead, and they are quickly off to play Tarzan. (If the vines are hanging just right, The Forest Ranger and I get to play Tarzan, too.)
We pass through to the road running near Rainbow Lake and turn right to circle back towards the Red Playground. Not two seconds later Nature Boy has spotted his lizard.
“Look, Daddy!” he says as he points to a tree trunk.
“Don’t grab it by the tail,” The Forest Ranger warns.
“Why not?” Nature Boy asks.
“Because it will fall off and the lizard will get away.”
“Okay,” he says seriously and expertly grabs the lizard around the middle. “Mommy, I need the bug box!” he exclaims.
I rush over with Geronimo at my side and we both congratulate Nature Boy on his successful capture. He is gleeful. “I did it! I caught a lizard! I’m going to catch flies at home to feed him,” he says happily.
Yes, Nature Boy can catch flies with his bare hands.
“But what will we name him?” I ask.
“Lizzie,” says Nature Boy.
He imagines that Lizzie will live a long, happy life in a box next to Hermie and Crabby, two hermit crabs that we bought at the beach “gift shop” in July. (In truth, we will let Lizzie go the next day.)
Energized by the find, Geronimo is off to the Red Playground and Nature Boy is at his side. The Forest Ranger and I water the dogs and smile big at each other. The Old Forest is our sanctuary.