Nature vs. Nintendo, Treehouses, and a New Project

It’s not as high off the ground as it looks!

I’m a firm believer in outdoor time over screen time. I think many of our kids today suffer from NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder (a term coined by author Richard Louv).

Those who know me well also know that I’m an avid environmentalist — and that I fully embrace the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle principle.

With those ideas in mind, a few years ago I started building a treehouse with my sons — and we’ve been adding to it ever since. It’s not exactly pretty. It probably doesn’t meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines for playground equipment. But two out of two kids agree – it’s pretty flippin’ awesome.

So far, it has two tire swings. Two Hot Wheels tracks. A zip line. A slide. A solar light. A pulley hoist to get said Hot Wheels (and books, of course) into the treehouse.

And EVERYTHING — from the wood, to the slide, to the nails — was free. Some things came from the farm I grew up on when we sold it last year. Some came from the side of the road. Some of it was rescued from the trash.

But the best part? I get to work with my kids on this project. They’ve learned how to use a level, a measuring tape, a hammer and nails. They’re learning that there’s a better solution than tossing everything in the trash, then running out to buy shiny new things. And we get to spend quality time outdoors.

I realize not everyone can pull off a project like this. My boys and I are fortunate to live in the woods, and working from home gives me some flexibility (I have to meet client deadlines, so there are times I’m still working at 2 a.m.).

But all of us can make time to walk with our kids in the park, or play in the yard, or build a birdhouse or bird feeder from recycled materials. And that’s all it takes to introduce the concept that there’s life beyond a screen, that nature is our ally, and that everyone can help the planet in some small way.

It’s not always easy. As I write this, I’m also arguing with my oldest because he’s not respecting today’s screen time limits (spoiler alert: I’ll win, because there’s a power button). But it’s absolutely worth it.

I’m such a firm believer in helping our planet that I’ve made it the theme of a series of middle-grade novels I’m working on. They revolve around a young girl who loves even those animals that aren’t (to most people) exactly cute and cuddly— like bats and snakes. She’s passionate about helping them, and about helping the grownups around her understand that every animal has its place in the ecosystem.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be rolling out the first in the series sometime next year — but that all depends on our next treehouse addition. These construction projects take time, you know!

Washing the gunk off our found slide (though they should have done that before taking test slides — hope I can get the stains out of those clothes!).

Music for Earth Day


Earth Day, lichen, moss, environment
© 2016, Patrick F. O’Donnell

Did you know Earth Day was originally the brainchild of a former plastics industry guru? No? Neither did I.

That was in 1969, and the gentleman, John McConnell, had designed one of the first plastic plants years before on the West Coast. He was reportedly fascinated by science and nature, concerned for the environment, and worked on developing a plastic using walnut shells, as well as finding ways to reuse waste products.

McConnell’s Earth Day was March 21, the spring equinox. And although we now recognize the first official U.S. Earth Day, established by Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970, the U.N. and many countries around the world celebrate both days.

Earth Day sparked the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, as well as laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and more.

It’s frightening that after all the progress we’ve made in the years since, the current administration is hell-bent on gutting the rules and regulations that protect our earth in favor of protecting the pocketbooks of already rich businessmen and women.

There’s hope, though. Today’s March for Science proves that.

In honor of Earth Day and The March for Science, I put together a YouTube playlist of songs that revolve around science and the environment. Some might be obvious choices, others perhaps not, but all celebrate, mourn or caution us in some way.

Clicking on the first video below should start the playlist, and they should play through in order.