FNP lecturer Koen Arts and his partner Gina slept outdoors every night over the course of a year in an attempt to spend at least half their time outside. He writes about this adventure in a literary non-fiction book in Dutch, entitled ‘Wild Jaar’ (Wild Year).
The set up for their ‘wild year’ was simple: spend 50 percent of one’s time outdoors. But with an extra challenge: do this while retaining the commitments of daily life, such as work and social engagements. Therefore, this was no holiday or sabbatical, but an attempt to improve connection with the natural world on a daily basis. The experiment also aimed to find wildness in a land without wilderness. Koen and Gina felt they had to apply their 50 percent rule to all four seasons, to resist the temptation of spending time outside only in good weather. As they had to be mostly indoors when working, the couple ended up sleeping 365 nights outdoors.
Besides a personal narrative of their experiment in nature connection, ‘Wild Jaar’ also contains other reflections on nature and nature engagement. FNP research themes – such as the quality of nature experience and rethinking nature-culture dichotomies – form a red thread through the book. There are also frequent references to Koen’s work at Wageningen University and his interaction with forest and nature conservation students.
"This is a study for the chosen ones; the green heroes of the future, who will settle for a meagre salary after years of unemployment. ... The majority of these students are here because of ideological reasons; they want to save the world."
Ultimately, Koen finds that by entering into the hybrid spheres between nature and culture, warmth and cold, day and night, garden and forest, daily chores and micro-adventures, he could still find wildness in The Netherlands. It does require embracing the outdoors in different ways: going out in the night, rain and winter; taking time to observe; looking for signs and evidence of other inhabitants of the environment, no matter how small; or by engaging with natural materials through activities such as fire-making. As Koen concludes: "Nature conservation is an idea that needs defending and a practice that needs living."
The Dutch media have responded enthusiastically to the ideas in the book. Together with Gina, Koen has appeared live on national television and radio, and been interviewed in major newspapers. Koen believes that this likely is also a sign of the current circumstances due to COVID-19; when people have to stay indoors, the longing for nature and to talk about nature increases.