|Wilderness Tonic and EcoVentures by Randy Eady|
Author's Note: (reprint of a speech by Randy Eady, Founder of Ko~Sha~Rey Rhythms Therapeutics at Global Renewable Energy Earth Day, in Vero Beach, Florida April 2007).
Natural by design means a lot when you are absorbed in peace and tranquilty; designs by nature bring together some of the best illustrations of sustainable architecture, permaculture and biomimicry. Yet it takes a cusp awareness to appreciate it...
As an Everglades canoe-guide, I recently (2007) attended a South Florida Environmental Ethics Conference themed, Living on the Edge and was thinking the title might be more aptly named: "Living on the Cusp". Certainly being more poetic, it also portends change in a cyclical sense, yet signifies the strongest position point formed by the intrados of a Gothic arch (the intersection of arcs being known as the Cusp.) This stability lends to a structure's magnificence.
Like Nature: Gothic Architecture Can Transport Your Vision (Show Cathedral Slides)
For it could not transport the beholder to a state of awe, without the classic Gothic arch array (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral). This astounding edifice would simply crumble in on itself with all the accumulated weight. (But), nature's constructs aren't the only source of mesmerizing experience, (hence) without a kind of cusp awareness that infuses our educational experiences, giving them a true sense of advocacy, we may be in real danger of a similar collapse.
For example, the educational director of the Marshall Foundation here in South Florida commented on the concern for declining visits to National Parks and the concept of a Nature-Deficit Disorder, when he related that during a recent night hike, he was surprised to catch a couple of kids listening to their iPods. He intervened to point out that the youngsters were already missing out by removing themselves from nature and added 'we need to change our view of these places and enjoy these things.". (It's unfortunate), that "Most people look at the wilderness as 'this evil place' and aren't willing to experience the world through senses."
Though this sentiment about fear of the outdoors may strike some as extreme, it does inform us about an emerging generational difference by being partly retrospective; partly a glimpse of the future as it unfolds. Many more children are living in a sheltered, 'surrogate-nature' kind of world. The wildlife they are exposed to is often mediated by technology or educational curriculum that just doesn't offer the allure of a virtual world. Yet it's also a story about challenging convention in critical moments by intuitively sensing that something's just not right when fewer and fewer children are unfettered or able to make the choice to unplug and simply mesh with the natural environment.
Hundreds of studies over the past 20 years have demonstrated that industrial noise can cause a wide range of negative effects: from short and long term hearing loss, headaches, dizziness to increased blood pressure, increased heart rates and stress hormones in children. A 2001 Swedish study showed that people who live near noisy airports were 80% more likely to experience high blood pressure. Yet no extensive studies have examined the converse relationship: whether expose to natural sounds or the natural movement through tranquil environments helps maintain human health? It may be a question of design. How do you scientifically measure variables and consequences like these? What might a study design look like?
It may help to take both an anthropomorphic viewpoint and adopt an anthropological perspective.
Anthropomorphically: the study of other animal's response to sound overload could help illuminate the effects of the natural environment on human health. Bernie Krause, a bioacoustics expert who consulted for the Natural Science Foundation puts the story this way, "if you give animals of any stripe the choice between natural and human generated sounds like engines, you will find that the stress levels are measurably higher with industrial sounds present. The same is true with humans"
Anthropologically: when we were evolving as a species, the world was absolutely quieter. The loudest sounds heard in nature were percussive sounds like thunder and other noise often signified danger. Warning sounds that were ignored (the clatter of birds or the sounds of animals walking or stalking) had a distinct survival impact.
In a sense, we are hardwired to respond to noises at a subconscious level and many of the noises we hear today assault us too frequently. This clearly signals a state of alarm in the nervous system that obviously influences biological processes such a sleep, mood, blood circulation and many actual impede our awareness, cognition and learning abilities.
That's why the iPod story is critically iconic. It is vital we capture the social attention of youngsters before many of these children are drawn into a galaxy of gadget options that reduce the time spent and the sensual engagement with a natural environment. Pause for a moment and think about how children today are bombarded with technology designed for individual, isolated interaction. It really puts comments like 'nature is seen as evil" in context. It also inhibits the ability of young children to begin to understand the interplay in the natural world that leads to civic engagement in environmental advocacy.
One instance - few places on Earth still have the full, natural soundscapes with which humans evolved and those places evidently hold medicinal powers for their inhabitants. Krause, reporting for the National Science Foundation, discusses the Bayaka tribe of the Central African rainforest as his case in point. When tribe members get ill or depressed from contact with 'cash economies" they go off into the forest for 3 months and cure themselves. Part of that mitigation is done through the natural soundscape when tribe members draw from inherent sounds to create ceremonial music. But I don't need an ethnographic study, as I see it in the faces of the groups I guide through the canoe trail in the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxahatchee_National_Wildlife_Refuge
A peace seeps into the visitors souls: imbued with far more health than anyone seems to give credit for.