Photo courtesy of Kyle Bosch



REFLECTIONS: Children and the Beauty of Nature, Vicki Graham

SPOTLIGHTS:  Climate Action Families, Detroit Outdoors, Green Schoolyards America, NatureBridge, and River of Words


NEW BLOG POSTS:  Steven Most. Emily Schmitz (coming May 1)

REVIEWS:  The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

In 75 words or less, tell us about a place you cherish for its beauty.  Why does it matter to you?
Send your beauty note to editor Vicki Graham at for publication in our May newsletter. 


by John de Graaf          


I’m leaving this morning for a week of traveling to screen REDEFINING PROSPERITY and talk about AND BEAUTY FOR ALL in Wenatchee, WashingtonMoscow, Idaho and Twisp, Washington—a long drive but through some beautiful country.    And I’m also excited about giving keynote addresses at the University of Washington for Earth Day on April 22 (following former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell) and at the Napa River Symposium on May 16.  

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately about how important beauty is for happiness and for the feelings people have about the places where they live.  Here is a link to four excellent studies;

This 2009 study finds that beauty ranks second only to economic vitality in importance to residents of a city among about 25 indicators—right above good schools and social connection.  Access to parks and nature ranks 6th, so also very high.

This study placed the beauty of the city third in importance to residents just behind income and social connection.


And this 2010 Gallup study of 26 US cities ranked beauty or aesthetics (including parks and access to nature/green space) a close third after social and cultural offerings that bring people together and openness to new residents in perceived resident satisfaction.  Beauty ranked just above quality of educational opportunities and well above safety and several other factors.

And finally, this British study commissioned by the UK government as part of its “Big Society” program really dives into why beauty is important for people and offers a model by which we can do similar studies in the US.  It sparked a COMMUNITY RIGHT TO BEAUTY campaign in the UK.

I am looking forward to returning to Vallejo, California next month, where mayor Bob Sampayan and others are trying to put these principles to work in a gritty, relatively poor and very diverse American city.  At the end of May, my friend Anamaria Aristizabal from Bogota, Colombia, will come to Vallejo to share the wonderful things Bogota has done to make the city beautiful, accessible and more fair.

I’m excited by efforts to bring nature and beauty into the lives of our children, explored so ably in this newsletter by our editor Vicki Graham.  And I hope you’ll read Steve Most’s wonderful blog post about Berkeley’s Ohlone Park with its lovely murals honoring the area’s first inhabitants. This brings back memories to me as I happened to be in Berkeley 50 years ago when the battle was fought to save “the People’s Park” from developers. I can still remember the sting of the tear gas and the crowds of National Guardsmen pushing people away from the park.  In its place, Ohlone Park was created a few blocks away.

Finally, I just read an article that really blew me away. Kevin Baker, who wrote the great Harper’s piece about the takeover of New York by luxury towers that even block sunlight from reaching Central Park in winter has written a new inspiring piece about the Green New Deal and the history that shows us we can fight climate change and bring greater economic justice if we are willing to think boldly.  A Green New Deal will make our cities and countryside more beautiful as well as more sustainable. Get involved in talking about it in your community.

For beauty!



REFLECTIONS: Children and the Beauty of Nature, Vicki Graham

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.  It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”   Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Flowers.  Sunsets. Shadows.  Reflections of light on moving water.  The brilliant red gorget of a hummingbird.  Beauty is all around us, waiting for us to savor it.  But have we forgotten how? I am not sure Rachel Carson is entirely right when she suggests that for many of us the “instinct for what is beautiful…is lost before we reach adulthood,” but I do think we often forget to give ourselves time to linger in the presence of natural beauty.

Children seem to have a boundless sense of wonder.  The world is new to them and each new experience brings new sensations and new questions.  Why? What? they ask us. Their eyes and ears and noses and tongues and hands go everywhere, exploring and discovering.  If we pay attention, if we enter their world, we, too, can pause long enough to let everyday things become strange and wondrous again.

Children respond quickly to the magic of the world around them, but they also depend on adults to guide them.  We are the ones who help define and shape their experiences and, later, their values. Because of this, we have heavy responsibilities:  To give children time and space to explore this beautiful earth. To share in their wonder, to get down on our hands and knees with them in the dirt and see, really see, what is there.  And finally, to love the earth and protect it, and to bequeath to them a place of wonder and beauty.

Richard Louv broke new ground with his book Last Child in the Woods in 2005.  Since then, “nature- deficit disorder” has become an important concern for educators, psychologists, parents, and others who work closely with children.  Today, there are many organizations working to counteract this deficit and reconnect young people to the earth. Some, like Green Schoolyards America, offer guidance in schoolyard design, collaborating with educators and members of the community to enrich children’s experiences of the natural world.  Others, like Detroit Outdoors, work directly with children, taking them “out there,” where “there” can be as far away as a mountain peak or as close as a city park.


SPOTLIGHTS: Climate Action Families, Detroit Outdoors, Green Schoolyards America, NatureBridge, and River of Words

Climate Action Families 

Photo courtesy of Climate Action Families
"Climate Action Families is a multi-generational climate advocacy org that supports families and youth who want to become active in climate advocacy.  We host the Washington, USA chapter of Plant-for-the-Planet, an international operation that focuses on planting trees, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and fighting poverty with climate justice. Youth train other youth to become Climate Justice Ambassadors. They learn to how to deliver a presentation about climate change, organize tree-planting events, and lobby government officials. They speak at public hearings, organize rallies and marches, and deliver tasks to schools and institutions of faith. Even though some of these youth have launched each other into positions of international importance, they still come together to sing, make banners and play. The youth will have to live with climate change effects the longest, and they will see worse effects than their parents, so it is our mission to ensure their voices are heard above the fray. We spend a lot of time outside together, passing on our sense of awe of the world to the young leaders whose abilities and vision have already far surpassed their elders. Help us spread our vision of family and youth climate engagement at"
Photo courtesy of Climate Action Families 

Detroit Outdoors and Detroit Inspiring Connections Outdoors

Photo courtesy of Detroit Outdoors

“Rouge Park is Detroit’s largest park at 1,184 acres and contains beautiful sections of river and forest to explore.  Nestled within the park is Detroit's only campground, a 17.4 acre natural area called Scout Hollow. The Detroit Outdoors program provides training, gear rental and programming for youth groups, scout troops and school classes to have an overnight camping experience right in their own city.  The campground is open to all youth serving organizations and is primarily focused on supporting groups from Detroit and surrounding communities. The goal is to connect the neighboring communities with the local natural environment and inspire youth to spend more time outdoors. Our volunteer leaders work in diverse communities with local agencies, such as schools, youth development organizations, church and neighborhood youth groups, and outdoor clubs, to provide wilderness experiences and environmental education for people who otherwise might not have the them.  Camping at Scout Hollow is run in partnership with the city of Detroit's Parks and Recreation Department, Sierra Club Inspiring Connections Outdoors, and YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.” Detroit Outdoors contact information:, (313) 618-8420. Website:


Green Schoolyards America

Photo courtesy of Green Schoolyards America

“Green Schoolyards America is a national organization that expands and strengthens the green schoolyard movement and empowers Americans to become stewards of their school and neighborhood environments.  Our Mission: Green Schoolyards America inspires and enables communities to enrich their school grounds and use them to improve children’s well-being, learning and play while contributing to the ecological health and resilience of their cities.

Green Schoolyards America envisions a future in which public school grounds are used strategically to improve the well-being of children, their communities, and the urban environment at the same time.  Our programs support the living school ground movement, build relationships that help it succeed, and work to embed this perspective in our existing institutions and policy and regulatory frameworks.” Website:

Photo courtesy of Green Schoolyards America


Photo courtesy of NatureBridge
“At NatureBridge, learning comes alive.  Our mission is to connect young people to the wonder and science of the natural world, igniting self-discovery and inspiring stewardship of our planet. Through our overnight, hands-on environmental science programs, we take more than 35,000 children and teens each year into our national parks to explore the outdoors, connect with their peers, discover themselves and develop a lasting relationship with the environment.  Students spend their days immersed in nature, living and learning alongside their peers. Led in small groups by experienced educators, students engage in scientific principles firsthand, explore ecological concepts, collaborate with their classmates, and apply their learnings in real time, all while discovering the joy of the outdoors.” For more information please see our website.

Photo courtesy of NatureBridge

River of Words at Saint Mary’s College of California

River of Words is a free, annual international poetry and art program for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Specifically, River of Words works with teachers by providing them with STEAM tools to help them guide their students in creating art and poetry on the theme of "watersheds" - environmentally conscious work that is inspired by the natural, cultural, and social ecosystem that surrounds each individual student. Every year, winners as well as finalists of the contest (approximately 90 pieces of art and poetry) are published in our annual anthology, River of Words: the Natural World as Viewed by Young People.

Check out more information here.


Photo courtesy of  Kara Patajo
Spring has certainly sprung in Seattle. The famous group of cherry blossom trees recently bloomed at my college, the University of Washington. The evidence of the attracting power of their beauty is clear if walking through the Quad is part of your routine to get to classes (it was for me).

Starting early in the morning this flowering area with its nearly 30 towering trees is visited by tourists, local Seattleites, and students. Throughout the day many people, including myself, enjoy the beautiful trees as they walk on the pathways, picnic in the grass, or relax on the benches.

Besides the views of Mt. Rainier, the blossoming cherry blossoms may provide the most beauty anywhere on campus. Although they are fully in bloom for only about a week or so, that limited time seems to make the experience of their beauty more sweet. 

The day I dedicated to taking in the beauty of the cherry blossoms surprised me with high winds. Fortunately, the weather actually turned out to be in my favor because the wind blew the petals around in a blizzard-like way, with petals flying around me in all directions. 

In that instance I realized that appreciating beauty is less about nature meeting human expectations, and more about opening our eyes to the beauty that nature offers on its own merits. Sure, a warm sunny day would have been nice, but a mild windy day made for a more playful and memorable experience.

While the cherry blossoms are no longer in bloom, their beauty is not gone. Rather, they have a fresh, green look that hints at summer and illustrates the innate beauty of Mother Nature's life cycle for trees. 

Photo courtesy of  Kara Patajo
NEW BLOG POSTS:  Steven Most. Emily Schmitz (coming May 1)

We recently added a new blog post by Steven Most to the website. His piece shares the news of the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of Ohlone Park in Berkeley, California. It is a celebration of natural space, history, art, and Native culture. 

Read the blog post to learn about the rich history of the park, including its struggles and victories, and to see the details of the event happening on June 1st. 

Photo courtesy of Steven Most
Photo courtesy of Bill Newton

Coming May 1:  a blog by Emily Schmitz about discovering the beauty and wonder of her neighborhood forests.

 Emily, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Charlottesville, Virginia, loves outdoor activities and has been writing independently since she was eight. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Schmitz

REVIEWS:  The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson 


First published in book form in 1965, The Sense of Wonder originally appeared as an article in Woman’s Home Companion in 1956, titled “Help Your Child to Wonder.”  Now, more than 60 years later, this brief but richly detailed meditation on how to foster and sustain a sense of wonder for the natural world is needed more than ever.  Intended as a guide for working with children, the book has become a reminder to all of us to awaken our own slumbering sense of wonder. From seeds to insects to stars, Carson gives back to us the beauties of nature too easily forgotten in our technological world.  The most recent edition, published by HarperCollins, is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Nick Kelsh and includes an insightful introduction by Linda Lear, Carson’s biographer.

Photo courtesy of Vicki Graham

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