In his timeless 1949 classic, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold famously wrote, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” I recently came across a video (found below) that highlights a very real fear I have for my kids – the danger Leopold prophesied over 65 years ago.
My teenage daughter is a pretty normal 15 year-old kid. At any moment she’s a monster cookie of sweet and salty, wit and sarcasm, delightfulness and delinquency. Monster cookies are wonderful, if not unpredictable. But, this cookie comes with one constant: her phone. My goodness she loves her phone. It’s more than a communication device; it’s her hobby, her companion and her lifeline to the minute-by-minute updates she holds so dear.
Generational differences aside, her compulsion for omni-connectedness worries me. Perhaps ironically, it’s my perception of her lack of connection to the tangible world around her that scares me. Much of how we perceive the world comes to us through the conditioning and learning we experience when we’re young. For people like me, those lessens were earned outside. My daughter and many of her friends, normal small town kids, largely view the outdoors as the mundane gap between their indoors – the stuff you drive through on the way to your hockey game. When I rode long distances as a kid, I would count the duck species I saw or try to figure out how many minutes it would take us to get to the next exit. Now, we flip on a movie and ride quietly as our kids stare blankly at one device or another. Gone are the hours of unstructured play, the exploration and outdoor discovery that defined my childhood, in favor of new forms of the same with names like Netflix, Spotify and Instagram. Telling your teenager to go outside and play has become the equivalent of saying “go use your phone where I can’t see you.”
My desire isn’t that my kids grow up to be like me, but rather that they explore, think critically and problem solve. Can these foundations be learned via a screen? My daughter consumes almost every form of content she values via her phone. She need not be curious about the world around her because Google has answers. (with pictures!) Exploration looks a lot like Wikipedia. She knows beef comes from cows, because that’s easy to read on Gawker. But, does she value the farm… the farmer… the cow itself? She’ll cry foul at the site of a feedlot, a judicious member of her outrage culture, but will she care enough to try to understand the complexity of raising enough beef to feed our developing world at a price point they can afford?
In my brief time as a parent I’ve come across only one antidote. Feed your kids fish they catch. The whole process is importantly unscreened. It’s tough to fish with a phone in your hand. Still more difficult to avoid the beauty of a sunset from a quiet boat, the enormity and fragility of nature on full display. (Enter phone for #sunset pic.) Neither Instagram nor Google will tell you how to catch those pesky late-July walleye. After all, if you’re gonna be there you may as well catch a fish! Maybe a parent’s experience with #walleyeprobs can be the start of a richer conversation.
That something must die so you can live is a fundamental of our existence, yet ditching the supply chain in favor of active participation in the food chain can be an emotional experience. It’s complicated to watch a living thing make its way to your plate. The entire lake-to-table experience encapsulates Leopold’s wish for us – that we pay attention to the places and living things around us, and that we are thoughtful about our role as apex omnivores in a fragile ecosystem. As I strive to raise curious, critical-thinking problem solvers, the time we spend fishing has become the one screen through which I’m confident I can connect.
I believe deeper relationships with the world around us are key to the changes we hope to see in every generation. Whether you garden, fish, hunt or forage, take the time to include your kids and maybe you’ll both find that connection.
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