Build-a-genius, go outside.

girla nd her bear

In her famous essay the Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses”, she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall”.

Studies in several nations show that children’s games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.

From an essay on the “second environmental crisis” in The Guardian by George Monbiot. He argues that kids these days don’t spend nearly enough time outdoors, which has caused many people to lose their desire to fight for environmental rights. It makes perfect sense—the most eco-minded folks are usually people who really like nature and spend a significant amount of time in it.

It reminds me of a piece I read earlier this year about wild words being removed from children’s dictionaries. The publishers at Oxford University Press decided that some words were more relevant to modern kid’s lives than others. What’s out? Bluebell, newt, and willow. What made the cut? Broadband, block graph, and celebrity. Ouch, right? My personal hero, Margaret Atwood, protested the change, and when someone who specializes in spookily prescient dystopian fiction warns of a dangerous societal shift, well damn, I sit up and listen.

Sweet science: deer beds.

Katherine_Wolkoff_DeerbedHere is something I learned today: Deer beds are beautiful.

Here’s another thing: Deer travel and live in herds. They’re social animals—to an extent. While the bucks are off… doing whatever it is bucks do, the lady-deers come together. The female deers and their little dappled fawns bed down together in large groups, while the bucks only hang out in groups of three to five (they are constantly fighting for dominance, which weakens the herd dynamic, kind of like when you go out with a few guys and they start playing darts and the night quickly dissolves into puffed chests and hurt feelings).

Hunters often track deer based on the imprints they leave when they lie down to rest. They create oval-shaped indents on the ground, crumpled swirls of grass. In the winter, their body heat melts the snow beneath, so if you see a few round melty spots, that’s probably a deer bed. Katherine_Wolkoff_deerbed_2

Photographer Katherine Wolkoff has created a series called “Deer Beds,” and I’m absolutely in love. To capture these images, she followed deer around Block Island, stopping where they did and training her camera on their nocturnal nests. The photographs (above) are strangely intimate and human. Touching and wild. Sweet and subtle. Imagine stumbling on a one of these deer beds in the wild grass. Lie down, it’s still warm from their gentle heat. Smell the plants, prickly and pungent, green and growing. Go to sleep. Dream of the herd, prancing away without you. Oh, deer.