Nature is not to be ignored


Published: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 12:12 a.m.

It's funny how some of us are drawn to the water's edge, even on a chilly, January afternoon.

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Newnan's Lake on a Sunday afternoon, where family members pass along their fishing knowledge to the next generation.

JOE RICHARD/Special to The Sun

During my annual winter visits to Newnan's Lake, I often find a few families fishing here, even catching stringers of catfish and bluegill at both Palm Point and Earl Powers Parks.

Sometimes it's cold enough to warrant a couple of campfires along the shoreline, creating a warm atmosphere where folks are catching dinner, trading stories and watching the local wildlife.

Ospreys swoop down and grab fish, returning to a favorite tree. That is, if a bald eagle doesn't take the fish away first. Dozens of cormorants dive and surface with more fish. Bird watchers can also be seen here with their spotting scopes.

Spending a few hours fishing on a lake with family is something many of us have lost touch with. And that's a sad thing. Time spent casting from the shoreline allows for knowledge and stories to be passed down from one generation to the next, as it's always been. Unfortunately, we now have almost an entire generation that has never fished or even sat at a campfire.

A grandmother showing her granddaughter how to fish for dinner — a rare sight today — can still be seen at Newnan's. It's something a young girl will never forget, whether she realizes it or not.

At the time, she may be thinking about cruising the mall with friends. However, later in life, she may well treasure those hours spent on the lake.

In his best-seller "Last Child in the Woods," Richard Louv explores the broken bond between nature and today's youth:

Healing the broken bond between our young and nature is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it.

According to Louv, nature deprivation is a national issue here in America, whether people realize it or not. Americans, especially youngsters, are now increasingly isolated from the physical world.

If you have children who depend or spend too much time with television, computer games and cell phones (let alone the Internet), this book is highly recommended. It's a real challenge today to raise healthy kids both mentally and physically. According to Louv, it sometimes requires taking them along on real outdoor adventures. Getting rained on. Being hungry. Existing for a few hours without being “plugged in.”

Last summer while hiking along the Suwannee River to take sturgeon pictures, I encountered a group of Boy Scouts from South Carolina who were 11 days downriver. They were canoeing downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, camping in tents on sandbars; it was a trip they won't forget.

At night, they lay in their tents just after dark, listening to jumping sturgeon. The previous night they reportedly counted 800 splashes before falling asleep. No cell phones were allowed to break the spell. Regrettably, they didn't have a catfish trotline. However, they were getting a good lesson in the harmony found in nature.

When I met them, I was worn out after a day of hiking, photographing sturgeon and climbing over fallen trees. Their leader volunteered to ferry me by moonlight back to the car, gladly accepting a package of Fig Newtons as payment for the ride. One can only imagine the delight of those Scouts as they fell on the cookies. Not to mention the appreciation of a bed and a solid roof over their head when they returned home.

Louv explains: A growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature — in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.

Well put. Alachua County is blessed with lots of woods and cool places to explore, with numerous tracts set aside for the public or preservation.

Wildlife is abundant and fossilized shark teeth can still be found in Gainesville creeks. Area residents are minutes away from San Felasco State Park, which is huge, as is Payne's Prairie. Even the smaller Devil's Millhopper Park and Boulware Springs offer hiking trails with chances of seeing deer, turkey, owls and other wildlife. Compared to the mean streets of Detroit or Los Angeles, Gainesville is a green oasis of sanity.

As for Newnan's Lake, its shoreline has been utilized and valued by people for thousands of years, going back to about 3000 BC. Dozens of ancient fire-carved, hollowed-out tree canoes, scattered along the bottom at the north end of the lake, are testimony to this.

They were discovered by a high school student and studied by experts, when the lake nearly dried up seven summers ago.

Five thousand years later, it's comforting to think these native people caught the same species of fish, watched the same bird life and enjoyed the peace that comes from an afternoon spent on this picturesque lake.

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