Much has been made in the last few years about the disconnect between children and nature. Richard Louv popularized the issue in his best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods. While the trend isn’t necessarily intentional, it cannot be ignored either. The awareness we are attached to something more is a key component to our continued existence upon Earth. Fortunately, I think the roots of this respect are already planted in the passions of the most perfect people, our children.
Certainly, we all have our phobias. I have a degree in entomology, yet I still can’t bring myself to hold a cockroach without a Kleenex as a barrier. But in many cases, exposure is the essence of success. I once wondered if my daughter would ever get her hands dirty. I think it was a camping trip when this tendency turned around. I remember her rescuing caterpillars from the tent area so we wouldn’t step upon them. For her, it was a love for the life of others which opened a door into the bowels of biodiversity. Now, her creative spirit is the driving force. The nice thing about nature is an appreciation for it can manifest itself inside each person in different ways, still yielding the same important result.
Over the winter, Mary Kathryn made many meals for the birds. Her restaurant uses the finest chinaware, with plates made from the leaves of magnolia trees. When turned over, these leaves are perfect, with curved edges to contain the meal, just like the real thing. The menu is a medley including anything from birdseed, wild berries and fresh wood sorrel leaves to add just the right bite for the palate.
In another act of creativity, she made some miniature bird nests this winter. These utilize the cups of acorns, turned over and forming just the right saucer shape. Within that is a soft bed of green moss to pad the pretty eggs made of freshly fallen red berries from the local holly tree.
After making a stick fort last fall, she decided it needed some simple amenities. She went to work making a doormat. I suppose one should never make a fort too filthy. I’m not sure it matters to the boys, but in typical fashion, she talked them into helping her collect the raw materials. These came from the red and yellow leaves of a pear tree. Laid close together, they formed a square with just the right color to make one’s entry to the fort a more cleansing and delightful experience.
People often tell me this kind of introduction to nature is easy for my children since I’m a naturalist. However, in these and most other examples, I’ve found the best way to introduce a child to nature is to simply let them go play in its midst. A child has all the raw elements -- the adaptations -- to make them and every other human intrinsically attached in some unique way to Mother Nature. Without those raw elements, our species surely never would have made it down this long road to the point where we now exist.
I think it is reasonable to assert if this connectivity made us successful in the past, it has the potential to do the same in the future. In all our longings for something more, nature may be the simple secret to our success. If so, we best not lose sight of those other species, the ones upon which in the end we do indeed depend. So go now. Play in the woods, and make sure your children do the same.