There's something magical and awe-inspiring about animal interactions that has yet to be explained by science.
You've probably heard the term 'nature-deficit disorder.' It was coined by American author and journalist Richard Louv in his 2005 book, "Last Child in the Woods," which examined the relationship between children and nature. Louv's book kickstarted a conversation that has expanded drastically in the years since publication, especially now that handheld devices and social media are the norm.
Louv just published his tenth book, "Our Wild Calling," which examines the relationship between humans and other animals. Louv was interviewed on the Outside podcast by editor Christopher Keyes and, while I have not yet read the book, it was fascinating to hear Louv describing his latest project.Keyes explains in the introduction that there is limited empirical evidence that can explain what happens when humans have unscripted, spontaneous interactions with wild animals, and yet anyone who experiences it describes it as a profoundly moving encounter. Louv said, "Many people talk about a sense of transcendence when they interact with animals," and this is precisely what he wanted to explore in the book – trying to understand that primal connection with animals that may elude scientists but is crystal-clear to people in the moment.
Louv tells stories in the interview, describing a face-to-face meeting with a huge black fox on Kodiak Island in Alaska; it walks alongside him for a ways before veering off. He tells of a famous oceanographer who found himself in an octopus's embrace and, after making eye contact with animal, said they made a non-aggression pact. The stories are thrilling and mysterious, but as Louv explains, "We need mystery and wonder... In those moments it's impossible to feel alone."
It made me remember the time I encountered a mother moose and calf on the twisting dirt road I traveled to school each morning, and how I whipped around a corner on my bicycle, only to stop short. We stared at each for a long time, but when the mother's alarmed breathing started to speed up, I turned around and biked home, asking my mom for a ride to the bus stop. I think of that moose pair every time I go around that corner, and am filled with wonder at the thought of those gigantic animals subsisting in the forest around my parents' home.
Pet ownership has skyrocketed in America in recent years, and Louv attributes this to human loneliness, but he thinks it's an even deeper loneliness than the one medical experts say is soon going to surpass obesity as a leading cause of death in the U.S. It is what some experts have called 'species loneliness,' a sense of humans being isolated in the universe. Some people cope with this through religion, while others turn to pets.
And yet, we do not need to feel this lonely. We are surrounded by life, by complex societies that we don't even see because we're not paying close enough attention. We can reconnect with the biodiversity in our neighborhood parks and establish relationships with wild animals that inhabit our regions; but in order to do so, we need to get outside, get walking and hiking, start looking.
Local institutions such as schools, libraries, and zoos have great potential to facilitate these interactions, as do Indigenous leaders, who have known forever that, in order to understand ourselves as a species, we must get to know others. This Indigenous knowledge, Louv says, must play a greater role in our education system.
Learn more on Richard Louv's website.