4 Powerful benefits from a simple nature walk

The Artdog Image of Interest

Some folks will look at this photo and see nothing but weeds, potential sunburn, probable bug bites, an annoying tick-check later, and dirty feet in the making. Grab the sunscreen and the bug repellent! They’ve let the kids loose in the the woods again!

Others will realize that these kids are receiving many more benefits than they are facing potential hazards. What are the benefits of taking a walk in nature? Let me count out a few for you!

1. Walking in nature improves emotional well-being. Children today suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety than past generations–yet walking in nature has been shown to counter “morbid rumination” (brooding on anxious or negative thoughts).

2. Walking anywhere promotes better fitness, but walking in nature is intrinsically satisfying. This makes it a more attractive activity than, say, walking on a treadmill or a track. The variations in terrain also can help foster greater agility.

3. The endless variety and movement in nature provokes a child’s natural curiosity. Some experts suggest it may help foster greater focus and improve kids’ attention span, while other folks have pointed out it can help improve listening and other cognitive skills. It’s also true that things a child personally experiences in nature can make academic studies of topics such as biology, ecology and other sciences more relevant and understandable.

4. Exposure to nature can also improve the body’s ability to function. While overexposure to the sun is a hazard, sunlight is essential to the production of Vitamin D in the body–a vital component for robust immune health. And speaking of the immune system, did you actually know that a little dirt is actually a good thing? A too-sanitized environment for children can actually backfire if the child’s body has no chance to build up natural immunities. It’s the same principle that applies to the immune-system benefits of household pets. Finally, being in nature can even improve kids’ eyesight, if they spend sufficient time outdoors!

Nature walks provide so many powerful benefits, it’s hard to overstate their value. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and get out there!

IMAGE: Many thanks to the writer/blogger Angela Amman for permission to use her photo “Walking in the Woods,” posted on her Playing With Words blog.

Let the children play

The Artdog Image of Interest 

There’s a special magic that happens when kids play outdoors in an unstructured way. Last week’s Image of Interest discussed NPAs, or Natural Play Areas in parks, and their value. But lower-case natural play areas don’t just have to be in parks.

Lucky are the children with access to a farm or a big back yard that consists of something other than manicured grass and a plastic swing set–although kids tend to make do with whatever they’ve got. More varied terrain does tend to help get the creative imagination going.

Creative adults, especially those who grew up with access to interesting natural play areas, almost invariably get a smile on their faces when they think about kids playing outdoors–but in fact that’s getting harder for children to do as years pass.

There’s a record number of kids in developed nations–kids who seemingly have all possible advantages going for them–who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. As Peter Gray has written in Psychology Today, “Rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents were far lower during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the turbulent 1960s and early ‘70s than they are today.”

Gray and many others point to the decreasing amount of play time children are allowed, these days–especially unstructured play time–as a source of the trouble. Running wind sprints or practicing your pitching skills on a flat field–while possibly enjoyable and valuable–are WAY different from unstructured play in a natural play area.

But all too often we see parents or other caregivers worry more over the potential dangers of outdoor play–from overexposure to the sun to air pollution–than about the ill effects of too little outdoor play. “Supervise your child carefully,” parents are warned. Supervise, certainly–and not all areas are equally safe for all ages. A little common sense, especially where toddlers are concerned, is well-advised.

But when they grow out of the toddler stage, don’t forget that appropriate developmental needs change. And, believe it or not, there actually are physical and psychological benefits to doing things such as sledding, walking barefoot in the woods, or rolling down a hill. Even simply getting dirty can be good for the immune system. Of course, kids have known this for eons.

We adults should relax a bit, and let them do it.

IMAGE: Many thanks to CafeMom for this image. It’s taken from the excellent article by Jacqueline Burt Cote, 6 Reasons Your Kid Should Play Outside, According to Science.

Authors, reading

I attended DemiCon 28 last weekend. It’s a science fiction convention in the DesMoines, IA area (technically, Urbandale), where they had an art show, masquerade, panel discussions, parties–the full gamut of things I have learned to anticipate at sf conventions in my decades-long career of attending them.

Mark Van Name does a reading from his novel No Going Back at Balticon in 2012.

And they had author readings.

In my experience, author readings at large conventions by “big name” authors can be standing-room-only events. Author readings by mid-list or relatively unknown authors tend to be the orphan stepchildren of convention programming. If anyone shows up for one, that counts as “wildly successful.”

Some promoting, arm-twisting, and recruitment of friends and family to fill the audience may be required, for newbie writers. We may have loved listening to people read us stories in grade school, or be passionately attached to our audio books and podcasts as adults, but somehow getting people to attend readings at sf conventions continues to be kind of a heavy lift.

As some of my more persistent blog-readers may have noticed, I’m a writer who’s poised on the brink of having a novel to release into the wild. It’s gone through multiple drafts, been professionally edited, and I’ve done all I can to make it the best novel it can be. The time has come to start making people aware it’s coming.

I asked for a reading at DemiCon. Better yet, I got one–although I wasn’t scheduled for many other programming events where I could promote it. I made fliers (with advice from my son about copy writing), and invited everyone I could.

P. C. Haring read several interesting excerpts from his novel Slipspace: Harbinger.

I also was able to connect with a couple of other authors, who also had readings. One of them was P.C. Haring, who’d been scheduled for a reading that morning at 9:00 a.m.

Now, in the normal world, 9:00 a.m., even on a Saturday, is a fairly reasonable hour. At a science fiction convention–especially one with as many lively room parties as DemiCon 28 has, a 9:00 a.m. panel on Saturday might count as cruel and unusual punishment.

I’d noticed this scheduling earlier, and commiserated with him. Then, on an impulse, I offered him the second half of my scheduled hour from 4-5:00 p.m. This was not entirely altruistic on my part: my voice tends to give out after half an hour or so of reading. In any case, he accepted the opportunity. We had a nice attendance–the room was about half-full. I read my first chapter, then he read excerpts from his book. Before we knew it, the hour was over and we’d all had a pleasant listen.

Then we gathered up as many of the audience up as possible, and trooped across the hall to listen to Lettie Prell read from two of her short works. The first, “Emergency Protocol,” is a flash fiction (very short) piece that will be published by Analog Science Fiction and Fact at a future date. It is wonderful: watch for it.

Prell then read excerpts from The Three Lives of Sonata James, a thought-provoking story that’s been reprinted in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2016, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Two, edited by Neil Clarke. Good stuff.

Did I gain anything by encouraging my audience to also listen to P.C. and Lettie?

Could/should I have filled my entire hour, all by myself? Well, certainly I had enough material to read (assuming my voice held up). And from comments I got later, the audience would have been game for listening to me. So maybe I made the wrong call. If you look at it from the point of view that all authors are in competition with each other, then I definitely did. Nice guys finish last, and all that.

But I don’t see the world as a zero-sum game, and I especially don’t look at writing that way.  I cannot possibly write fast enough to be the only author someone reads (unless they read ver-r-r-r-r-ry slo-o-o-o-o-o-owly, indeed!). Even much more prolific authors ultimately can’t. Everyone’s readers are also going to read other authors’ work.

Therefore, I’d rather be a resource, a connector, a person who introduces people to others they may also like, in any given network. I fundamentally do not believe that any given group of writers (or artists) are competing, so much as conducting parallel enterprises. If we conduct our careers in friendly, cooperative ways, as far as I’m concerned, we all gain, and actually might expand our own networks a bit in the process.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Balticon Podcast, for the photo of author Mark Van Name giving a reading from his novel No Going Back. There aren’t very many photos of that particular activity (author readings at sf cons), so I was relieved to find a good one! The promo card for my novel, Going to the XK9s, is a combination of my copywriting and design, much improved by comments from my son Tyrell Gephardt, and an illustration I commissioned for promotional purposes, by Jeff Porter. The cover art for P. C. Haring’s novel Slipspace: Harbinger is from his website. The illustration for The Three Lives of Sonata James is by Kevin Hong. It is posted here courtesy of Goodreads. Many thanks to all!

A place for kids “gleefully doing their worst”

The Artdog Image of Interest

Welcome to Imagination Grove in McLean, IL, a place where more unsupervised play is allowed.

What if kids were allowed to pick flowers, build forts, break off branches, and carry away rocks from public parks? To make extra trails through the undergrowth, to dig holes? What’s the worst that could happen?

If you’re like a lot of grownups, you’re probably envisioning hard-compacted soil, hillsides denuded of flowers, and desolation. In some settings, particularly the more fragile, endangered areas, you’d be right.

But a lot of the current kid-generation’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have memories of being at large and creatively free, in wild or semi-wild places, where they did all of those things and came back from largely-undamaged natural places with a new and deeper appreciation for the natural world we live in.

Matthew Browning, a former Park Ranger, sought out an area in Sweden where he cold study natural play zones where kids were bound by very few rules. And no, these places did not escape unmarked. But Browning found that “after millions of kid-hours of use by children gleefully doing their worst, these play zones remain functioning natural areas. The damage wrought by kids was comparable to that from hiking or camping.”

Grownups being grownups, they’ve now created an acronym for areas reserved in public parks for such use: NPAs, or Natural Play Areas. But it’s a positive movement all the same. As Katherine Martinko of Treehugger writes, “It’s time we let the children play, let them cultivate relationships on their own terms with the beautiful forests around us.”

We won’t save what we don’t value. A few beaten paths and play-forts are surely worth the fate of the planet, wouldn’t you say?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Slate’s article Let Kids Run Wild in the Woods, by Emma Marris, for the photo from Sugar Grove Nature Center in McLean, Illinois

Kindred

The Artdog Images of Interest

Mothers, 1919, by Käthe Kollwitz
Migrant Mother, 1936, by Dorothea Lange 
Syrian Refugee Mother and Child, 2015, by Tara Todras-Whitehall, for the IRC

IMAGES: Many thanks to Gerry in Art’s wonderful post on Kollwitz, for the 1919 image Mothers, to the indispensable Wikipedia, for Dorothea Lange’s 1936 masterpiece, and to the “Uprooted” blog of the International Rescue Committee on Medium. 

Orchestra Dreams

A guest post by my sister, Gigi Sherrell Norwood

I was raised on classical music.  When everyone else my age was arguing Beatles v. Stones, Jan and I were discussing Bernstein v. Ormandy.  So, when I reached the fifth grade and my teachers asked if I was interested in joining the band, taking up the clarinet seemed like the obvious thing to do.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of Gigi’s clarinet, or–better yet–Gigi with her clarinet. But it looked pretty much like this (big surprise).

I loved it.  Learning new skills kept me from getting bored in our rural school, and gave me the chance to learn one of the main themes from my favorite symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 4th.  I took group lessons on Saturdays, and later private lessons with my band director after school.  And I began to dream.  Maybe, some day, I would become a professional musician, and get to play with the New York Philharmonic!

I shared my dream with my band director.  He shot it down.  “Girls don’t play in professional orchestras,” he told me.

The all-male truth of 1969 revealed! Only the harpist was a woman.

 

I was crushed. How could this be true?  As soon as I got home I dug out my copy of Tchaikovsky’s 4ththe one with the picture of the whole orchestra on the cover.  One by one I checked out every single face.  And it was true!  The only woman in the entire ensemble was the harp player.

This was 1969, and the women’s movement hadn’t made it to small town Missouri.  I was still young enough to believe things would always be the way they were at that moment.  My interest in band began to decline.  Why should I work all those extra hours, if the boys were the only ones who could make a career of it?  By eighth grade, when they told me my final grade depended on getting up very early every morning, all summer long, and marching, I was done.  I dropped out of band and switched my allegiance back the theatre, where night owls who can’t tell left from right were more appreciated.

A “blind audition” for the Madison (WI) Symphony Orchestra yields a more objective result.

In the decades since, strong, wonderful women with more pioneering spirit than I, have broken the gender barrier in professional orchestras.  Blind auditions became the standard, concealing any gender cues and placing the auditioner behind a screen, so all the conductor could evaluate was the musician’s tone, musicality, and playing ability.  A whole generation of rigidly sexist artistic directors has died off, and about half the musicians in today’s New York Philharmonic are female.

A much more recent photo of the New York Philharmonic reveals a changed gender ratio.

But the hurt, and outrage I felt back in 1969 lingers.  It flares up again every time I hear a teacher shoot down a young person’s dream.  And I say, no matter what your creative field, feed the flame.

If someone comes to you with an impossible dream, remind yourself that it may simply not be possible yet.

The child with the shining face, who stands before you alight with the glory of her dream, may be the one who makes it possible, sometime in the future.

Nurture those dreams. We need them. They are the agents of change.

Gigi Sherrell Norwood

ABOUT GIGI: In addition to being my much-admired sister, Gigi Sherrell Norwood is the Director of Education and Concert Operations for the Dallas Winds (formerly the Dallas Wind Symphony), having used her BFA in Directing, her prodigious writing skills, and her lifelong love of music to become involved with a highly-esteemed professional musical group after all. Widow of the science fiction writer Warren C. Norwood, with whom she sometimes collaborated on projects under his byline, Gigi is also a talented writer herself. She is currently working on several urban fantasy stories set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, TX. 

NOTE: for a similar post about a young woman’s creativity shot down, you might be interested in my post Death of a Purple Elephant, from 2011.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Lark in the Morning’s “Clarinets” page for the photo of the clarinet. Many thanks to Amazon, for the photo of the vintage NY Philharmonic album cover, featuring the all-male-except-the-harpist photo of the orchestra’s musicians. I am indebted to the Madison.com website for the image of the MSO blind audition. The photo is by Amber Arnold of the State Journal. Many thanks to Bidding for Good, for the photo of a more recent New York Philharmonic, complete with roughly half female musicians. Gigi provided the photo of herself. It is used with her permission.

One-of-a-kind Rosa Bonheur

The Artdog Images of Interest

Portrait of Rosa Bonheur, 1860, photo by André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri

This has been my week to just miss anniversaries. Earlier this week I missed K9 Veterans Day. This time it’s the anniversary of my subject’s birth: Rosa Bonheur (born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur) was born March 16, 1822.

In the course of her 77 years, Bonheur became the most famous woman painter of her century, won a long list of honors for her artwork including the Legion of Honor, and shocked a great many sensibilities with her highly original lifestyle.

She was literally born a rule-breaker. Her family, inspired by her father, were Saint-Simonians, followers of a radical-for-that-period socialist political philosophy that held, among other things, that men and women should be considered equals, and all class distinctions should be abolished (of course the group soon split, with one faction unable to accept the idea of female equality). 

Ploughing in the Nivernais, 1849, was Rosa’s first “big breakout” painting. She had exhibited at the Salon before, but this one was a commission by the state, after she’d won her first gold medal at the Salon.

Rosa never formally studied art (the École des Beaux-Arts didn’t even accept women at that time). Luckily for Rosa and the world, her father Oscar-Raymond Bonheur was an artist. He taught all four of his children to be artists, in the tradition of the family workshop. They helped him with some of his commissions, and later helped each other as well. 

Rosa’s brother Isidore was a noted sculptor; Rosa exhibited sculpture when she was young, but according to her Art History Archive biography she “did not want to overshadow” Isidore. Apparently she had no such compunctions about overshadowing her other siblings Auguste and Juliette; like her, they were primarily known as animal-painters, or animalières

The Horse Fair, 1852-55, is Rosa’s most famous painting. It is an enormous canvas, with a complex composition (she called it her own Parthenon Freize). It secured her reputation as a master of her genre and of painting in general. It now hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rosa may not have studied art in a traditional school, but she definitely studied animal anatomy at schools for veterinarians, and at slaughterhouses in Paris, despite the fact that those were not a “suitable” place for a woman. She even got special permission from the police to wear a smock and trousers when she went there. 

Lion at Rest, 1880, is one of several lion paintings by Rosa Bonheur. The subject is likely of one of her pet lions.

In her lifetime she owned many animals, including several lions, an otter, and of course horses. She received many commissions, including from the French Empress Eugénie (who visited her at her home near Fontainebleu to give her the Legion of Honor). 

Highland Raid, 1860, is one of Rosa’s better-known pieces that stemmed from a trip she took to Scotland (she also met Queen Victoria on that trip). The title does not mean the shepherds are stealing these animals–it uses the old Scottish word “raid” meaning “road.”

Rosa never married, although she established her studio in Paris with her companion Nathalie Micas, and later in life she toured the United States and lived in France with a younger artist named Anna Klumpke from Boston, who painted her portrait the year before she died, wrote a definitive biography of her, and to whom she left her entire estate.

The Monarch of the Herd, 1867, was one of the paintings sold by her estate after her death. She may have studied red deer at her home near Fontainebleu.

By all accounts, Rosa lived life on her own terms. As in the story about the Paris police and the dress code of the day, she was not afraid to adjust the rules to suit her own needs; while feminism was not a major theme in her artwork, it most definitely was, in the way she lived her life

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia for the photo by Disdéri, and the images of Ploughing in the Nivernais, and The Monarch of the Herd. I am indebted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the image of The Horse Fair, to Art History Archive for Lion at Rest, and to the National Museum of Women in the Arts for Highland Raid.