At Risk of Nature Deficit Disorder

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In the dense Blue-Ridge Forest of Appalachia I climbed on rock for the very first time. It was 1995 and I was a wayward teen from the Deep South, longing for some kind of deeper connection. With that very first touch of rock against skin a spark was ignited, my soul touched by something so profound that it would take years for me to understand.

Over the last few decades since that first interaction I’ve come to know more. That summer spent learning to climb, camp, and backpack in the mountains outside of Boone, NC opened up the natural world to me. Rock climbing was the vehicle which brought me closer to nature and as result closer to knowing myself as a human being. This relationship gave me purpose and became the foundation for my adult life.


This past winter Sacred Rok hosted it’s first intern. A young woman from just outside of Boone, North Carolina reached out about her high school senior project; she was very interested in climbing for health and in the process of her research had come upon an article I’d written about the very topic.


In the article I talk about the health benefits of time spent outside and the work we do at Sacred Rok. Intrigued by this she reached out to us about doing an internship in February.


She came to Bishop for a l long weekend and returned home filled with such inspiration that it gained the attention of some of her climbing teammates. Other youth wanted to experience the Sierra and Yosemite, and the life-changing potential of time spent communing the body, mind and self in nature.

Five young people, ages 16-21, spent 4 days with us camping in Tuolumne Meadows. It was an exceptionally memorable trip. All of these youth are rock climbers to some degree and while climbing was something we shared with them a lot of our time was spent hiking the domes, watching sunsets, swimming in the river and sharing stories of experiences- past, present and future- over the campfire.


On their last evening we took them up the frontside of Lembert Dome to its summit to watch the sun dip beneath the horizon, painting the Sierra in that quintessential fuchsia glow. We were the only people up there that evening. The beauty was beyond capture in picture or words. It was such that it made it’s way into your chest, depositing itself there for later use - For those times when we find ourselves in stressful situations, detached from the ceremony of nature or closed in by the demands of our modern lives.


This group of young people was a slightly different group than we normally work with but through our 10 years as a non-profit we have come to see more and more that we are all at risk, regardless of economic status or location, of developing Nature Deficit Disorder. Our lives are so governed by structured time indoors at school, work and home that we’ve largely isolated ourselves from the reality that we are nature and that everything we see outside is reflected in ourselves as human beings, as creatures of the natural world. Due to this we have become disconnected and foreign to the world of plants and animals, from dirt; from the elements that keep us grounded, healthy and whole.

As we stood there communing with the place and each other one of the youth said, “I mean what are the chances that we would all be up here together like this?”


It was that one click of the finger on my article by Mary that was the impetus for the whole trip, for the whole experience that we were able to provide these young people, for opportunity to experience education nature’s way and the ability to come back into ourselves through a connection to the natural world.

It is due to my experience in life with climbing as a way to develop a relationship with nature that I was able to share that insight through my writing and that rippled out to bring us all together there in one of the most beautiful places in the world.


Standing there that evening there was a spark of the imagination for these youth about how to live a life in balance and harmony. It was that same spark that had been ignited me all those years ago in the nature of North Carolina and here we were bringing it back full circle, facilitating the ceremony of nature for them each to experience in their own way and to take back with them.


With respect,

Katie Lambert - Chief Operating Officer