During my walk this morning, I passed by the local schoolyard — an elementary school, K through 8. It was recess time. I spotted a couple of girls with iPads, running through the tall weeds at the side of the school, taking pictures. They were taking pictures of the plants, I assume, or perhaps tiny bugs on the leaves. Nothing wrong with that…except that they didn’t take time to actually look at the plants with their naked eyes. They would be viewing them later through the camera lens. No touching of the leaves to get a tactile sense of them, no sniffing to see if they had a fragrance — no real contact at all.
I thought, ‘How sad!’ And it came to me that perhaps this is how much of the current generation of kids is learning about their world. I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised, therefore, if they grow up without an appreciation for the natural world, the importance of not polluting it, and the consequences of not paying attention to it.
I thought back to Gill and her siblings — the original ‘back to nature’ trio! Rare was the day when they arrived home after playing with friends in the local woods, pond, or open field without scratched knees and faces, grass stains or clumps of mud stuck to their pants, hair full of burrs. And they took great glee in compounding the mess by taking the dog with them. Actually, I suspect that she, being a large German Shepherd with a tendency to jump our 6 foot fence, often egged them on and was the leader of the pack of vagabonds. She was the perfect leader since she couldn’t speak to rat them out and she knew the terrain well, having gotten loose for solo adventures numerous times and knew all the ‘best spots’.
Crazy D and Gill were always finding critters to bring home — bugs, worms, baby birds, snails. L’il Sis was more the wildflower ‘expert’ — bringing home everything from dandelion bouquets to poison ivy to grace the dining table. And she was the one to find and rescue lost pets…when I say ‘rescue’ I really mean she ‘heisted’ them, brought them home and announced they were now HERS, completely disregarding the fact that they probably already HAD good homes. It was like wrenching a baby cub from its mamma bear to get her to give it back to the rightful owners . She eventually saw the moral imperative to put up signs and look for the rightful owners.
With all of this contact with the natural world, we ended up with snakes, dogs, rabbits, birds, hamsters, an attempt at an ant farm (don’t ask) and seriously defective monarch butterfly hatcheries. But at least they learned about real critters and the fragility of life. (They also learned to plan a fine funeral ceremony …numerous times. Not for them the ‘flush ’em down the toilet routine’.)
I recall getting a phone call, midday, from Crazy D and Gill’s nursery school in California.
“Mrs. B?” the teacher began.
“Uh, oh…who did what and how bad is it?” I asked. I knew my kids.
“Oh, nothing bad at all. In fact, your son has found a monarch butterfly and wants to watch it make its cocoon and make new butterflies. I thought it might be a good lesson for all the class. The problem is, we don’t have any milkweed plants to use for the project. He thought he recalled you pointing out to him, during one of your walks, some milkweed plants. So I thought I’d see if you remember where they were…and maybe you could get some for us.”
“Uh, he didn’t happen to use the phrase ‘forced marches’ at any point in your conversation with him, did he?”
“Great! Uh, I’d be happy to see if I can find the plants again. I don’t recall where we saw them, but I can go looking.”
And so I set out — taking L’il Sis, still a baby, in the stroller. We covered a fair amount of territory near the house but found nothing. I then decided to broaden our search and strapped her into the car seat. We took off, slowly winding our way up and down the hills, an Anne Murray tape blasting kids’ songs, searching for the elusive weed. We came up empty and Crazy D’s project crashed and burned before it got off the ground but I suspect that may have been a defining moment for my kids. They had discovered that nature was infinitely fascinating, that they had a mom crazy enough to spend the better part of a day looking for one stupid plant, and while she failed miserably at that mission, took time to stand and enjoy (to L’il Sis’ delight) the buffalo and llamas in a neighbor’s backyard. (Yes, that’s California for you…)
Years later, when one of their friends from the state came to Canada to visit, this child’s best memory of the entire trip was wallowing (with my three) in a mud pile that excessive rain had created in our yard. All four kids were covered in filth…but a happier quartet I have never seen!
I hope the little girls in the schoolyard are encouraged to put down their iPads and actually SEE, touch and smell nature. It’s always better in person! Messier, but better…