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Nicholas Kristof is an American journalist, New York Times op-ed columnist, and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. He's best known for bringing to light human rights abuses in Asia and Africa, such as the global sex trade and the conflict in Darfur. Having lived on four continents and traveled to 140 countries, he has an exceptionally diverse perspective on the world. Earlier this summer, he turned his attention to a very different subject when he wrote an op-ed called "How to Lick a Slug," a very personal story of his backpacking journey up Mount Hood with his 11-year-old daughter.
"My daughter and I were recuperating in a (banana slug-infested) wilderness from a surfeit of civilization. On our second day on the Pacific Crest Trail, we were exhausted after nearly 20 miles of hiking, our feet ached, and ravenous mosquitoes were persecuting us. Dusk was falling, but no formal campsite was within miles.
"So we set out a groundsheet and our sleeping bags on the soft grass of a ridge, so that the winds would blow the mosquitoes away. Our dog looked aghast ("Ugh, where's my bed?!"), but sulkily curled up beside us. As far as we could tell, there was no other hiker within a half-day's journey in any direction.
"We debated whether to put up our light tarp to protect us from rain. "No need," I advised my daughter patronizingly. "There's zero chance it'll rain. And it'll be more fun to be able to look up at shooting stars."
"It was, until we awoke at 4 a.m. to a freezing drizzle."
Kristof's ritual journey into nature, which each year covers the same ground, is his way of taking, "time to hit the 'reset' switch and escape deadlines and BlackBerrys. We spend the time fretting instead about blisters, river crossings and rain, and the experiences offer us lessons on inner peace and life's meaning -- cheap and effective therapy, without the couch."
As I experienced so deeply this summer on my own journey into the mountains of Colorado, our society seems to have lost that reset button. Without it, we lose touch with ourselves as well as our connection and reverence for the natural world of which we are but a small part. As Kristof notes,
"Only 2 percent of American households now live on farms, compared with 40 percent in 1900. Suburban childhood that once meant catching snakes in fields now means sanitized video play dates scheduled a week in advance. One study of three generations of 9-year-olds found that by 1990 the radius from the house in which they were allowed to roam freely was only one-ninth as great as it had been in 1970."
We have become a society with "nature deficit disorder." Increasingly, psychologists see this as a cause of depression, obesity, and attention deficit problems.
Let's get outside.