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Reality , What A Concept

A pair of Cardinals nested outside our front window this spring. The well-hidden nest was probably no more than eight feet from where I’d stand looking out. Yesterday I noticed the bright male adult feeding a couple of little ones, who’d somehow wandered away from the nest. They sat on a branch, looking like tiny little still clumps of leaves until the parent got near, at which point they’d get excited and flap their tiny wings and jump a bit. A couple of times during the day I just stopped and watched the activity. It was quite relaxing…and got me thinking of a couple of news tidbits I’d seen recently. Two quite disparate items which were so different, it got me thinking, maybe they pointed out the same thing – we need to be more in touch with reality, and with our planet.

The first story was about Canada, where some doctors can now “prescribe” Nature for patients. The BC Parks Federation started a program which has now spread to several provinces including Ontario, whereby doctors are allowed to “prescribe” time in nature for their patients and even give them a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which allows free entry into Canadian national parks and some other provincial or regional ones.

It’s not just a gimmick devised by some granola company or binocular manufacturer either. Dr. M. Lem, speaking about the idea says “there’s a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function, (increased) life expectancy, to reduced risk of heart disease and depression.” A Dr. R. Phillips adds “we practically live in virtual worlds…it’s important to set an intention to regularly spend time in nature.” He says “I often prescribe nature time for patients who struggle with chronic stress, anxiety or depression.” He reports “improved clarity and mood” generally result in those who follow those doctor’s orders. So far, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore are watching the program with thoughts of doing something similar and a few American doctors have already followed suit on their own. Seems as though sometimes a walk in the woods or coffee break watching ducks on a pond does the trick better than a couple of Xanax or Valium.

Which brings me to the second news item. A follow-up to a story which I somehow missed four years ago about Akihiko Kondo. Kondo’s a Japanese 30-something man who made headlines for himself in 2018 by “marrying” – I won’t write that without quotation marks, sorry – a cartoon character, Hatsune Miku. Hatsune in apparently an anime character who’s been used in some video games and a few music videos. She is supposed to be a 16 year old, big-eyed, blue-haired Japanese girl.

Akihiko says he has trouble meeting girls…that is real, human ones … and many of them have made fun of him in the past, calling him an “ataku”, which apparently is Japanese for “nerd” of “Sheldon Cooper-like.” So his solution was to escape further into a world of make believe and make his life partner a fictitious one.

He says “I’m in love with the whole concept of Hatsune Miku,” saying they’d “dated” for ten years before he asked her to marry him. “I will never have to see her ill or die,” he enthuses and she’ll always “be there for” him. His greatest day, or at least besides his “wedding” day, was when a tech company called Gatebox rolled out a $3000 device that allows people to have little holograms, so with it he could see a 3D Hatsune and talk to her. Ahh, young love!

So then he asked her to be his one and only, and we’re told she said yes, so they had a wedding, with a certificate and all. He had his little hologram of her by his side, but since he realized that he couldn’t actually put a ring on a holographic finger, he got a plush toy version of her and put the ring on that as a surrogate. One imagines the doll also stood in for his bride on the honeymoon. He does add sorrowfully that his mother wouldn’t attend the wedding. She “wants (me) to meet and fall in love with a real person.” Poor Hatsune might not get along with her new mother-in-law, methinks.

He’s taken the hologram “wife” on dates and holidays with him, but then crisis arose. During the pandemic, Gatebox stopped offering service for his device and now he can “no longer communicate” with her. Sad Akihiko! He still proclaims his love for her and undying devotion but laments not being able to talk to a 3D representation of the already fictional creation.

Now, it would be easy to write him off as either a hopefully harmless but sadly deranged individual or just a savvy publicity hound looking to get interviews and his photo in magazines. Perhaps he is one or both. But reports say there are thousands more just like him now, particularly in Japan where being “fictosexual” is being looked upon as a fairly normal way of living life. I wonder if Betty Boop is still single?

I’ve met men who joke about Betty Rubble and her Flintstones body, but emphasize “joke”. And while there’s probably not a straight man around who hasn’t watched a Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts or, insert actress of your choice’s name, movie and let their mind wander a little and think “boy, wouldn’t that be nice” , they also know that it is a fantasy. Not reality, even though Ms. Aniston, Ms. Roberts and Ms. Your Choice are in fact real humans, which is more than we can say about Hatsune. They age, get sick, and sadly one day will die like every one of us, including the real mates we love in real life.

Video games are entertainment, but not real life, and teenage girls in them are fictitious characters, not soulmates. Real life involves real people in real settings on this real planet. Real relationships mean putting up with bad, including things like illness and losing one’s looks as age marches on. Most of us know this and agree to the terms of this big “game of life.” Alarmingly though, as Dr. Phillips says, more and more people seem oblivious to those things, as they live in their “virtual worlds.” I see signs of it increasingly frequently in the youngest generations amongst us, who might well see Akihiko as some sort of role model, oblivious to what they may be missing out on.

Is this making them happy? Far from it. A body of evidence shows that depression is rising among the younger generations and affects more under-30 types who have their whole lives ahead of them than elderly people. If you know any Millennials or Gen Z’s, you probably don’t need scientific studies to tell you how prevalent depression and “stress” issues are among them. 

It makes me hope the Nature Prescription may be the next wonder drug.I hold out hope that we as a species are smarter than your typical Cardinal. Or at least smarter than your typical video game avatar.  One final bit of advice from the docs at Nature RX – when you fill your “prescription,” leave your phone behind.

Thankful Thursday XI – Earth Day

This Thankful Thursday is also Earth Day, so I’m thankful for that!

Earth Day is a pseudo-holiday begun in 1970 to celebrate nature and a healthy environment. As one correspondent on a news show this morning pointed out, that was not long after the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire, so polluted was it, and less than two decades after a killer smog – from a weather phenomenon that kept coal-burning fumes from rising and dissipating quickly – caused approximately 4000 deaths in London. People were beginning to become aware of the importance of nature, and that keeping our surroundings clean and healthy wasn’t merely cosmetically pleasing…it was essential for our own well-being.

Somehow I’ve always been an environmentalist. As a small child, my family watched a lot of nature shows, and I was fascinated by the animals, and the exotic landscapes they showed. The rain forests, the African savannahs, and even the equally impressive ones closer to home, from the Rockies and Florida ‘glades to the vibrant fall forests I lived close to. We had a bird feeder and I spent many a chilly, snowy winter afternoon watching the comings and goings of a rainbow-array of birds having a meal. My brother was a Boy Scout and one of their community works back then was a “paper drive.” They’d be driven around in pickups or on flatbeds and pick up bundles of newspapers people would leave out for recycling. I was too young to take part, but I admired their efforts. Seemed obvious to me – if all these tons of paper could be recycled and re-used, a lot fewer trees would have to be cut down. In turn, more homes for the birds and bears, and (as I’d learn by maybe grade 5) a lot more oxygen being put back into our air. I was exceptionally happy when the city took over and began collecting paper as well as plastics and metals from everyone for recycling and to this day, I’m the one who is the household “nag”, collecting and rinsing out the empty pop and beer cans, tearing the contact info off the many (too many!) mail order catalogs we keep getting and putting the rest of them into the blue bin, making sure it’s out on the curbside on the right day. Seems like a tiny effort to me, which if duplicated in even half the households of our community, would make a huge difference for the better.

The best, but also most frustrating job I ever had was one I started as a summer job during my college years and carried over for a year or two afterwards, working for a governmental agency responsible for a range of environmental issues ranging from local parks to floodplain mapping and protection of rare plants and animals. It was a fun and interesting job, and over the years I talked to thousands of people of all ages, led tours, pointed out wildlife, interesting edible plants they’d never heard of. I hope something I said or showed at least made an impact on a handful of people and generated seeds that grew into concerned environmentally-aware adults. I conducted biological studies of wild areas near the city and worked on a photo catalog of them. It was a fun and, I felt, beneficial job. The frustration came from the fact that it was governmental and our input on behalf of the environment often became outweighed by commercial, economic influences.

Rivers aren’t catching fire these days, thankfully, and if poor air quality is making people ill or causing asthma, at least we aren’t seeing hundreds per day drop dead from it in big cities. Yet, for that our world isn’t in much better shape than it was on the first Earth Day. There are more of us people and we’re creating more garbage than ever, importing more and more problematic invasive species (everything from fast-growing weeds to hornets to wild pigs) into new areas they don’t belong and seem hellbent on converting the Amazon rain forest into the world’s largest cattle ranch regardless of the consequences for the atmosphere, wildlife or native populations of the area. So we still mark ‘Earth Day.’

Way I see it, this is the only world we have. We hear stories about how life might be possible on Mars, if we find ways to move huge populations there quickly, and build artificial domes and find ways to pump in nitrogen and oxygen and on and on. But for me, I don’t think I’d want to live in an area without trees, flowers, wildlife, living in an artificial climate relying on machinery to allow us to breathe and bring us food from other planets. Seems like putting the money and effort needed to do that would be spent better on keeping this little planet inhabitable. So, I’m thankful for Earth and therefore thankful too for Earth Day.