Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Grab a hold of nature

While I have a love of all things natural, be it mammals, reptiles, fungus, trees, flowers or just appreciating the beauty of a sunset, I will be found outside exploring it or photographing it. Somehow though, insects have won out above all else as the object of my love.

When I tell people that I love insects, I get many strange looks and always the question follows "why?" How do I answer that? For me it is many things all combined into something that makes perfect sense to me. I love being outside, the warmth of the sun on my face, the breeze blowing across my skin, and then I catch sight of one of God's perfect creations hidden among the foliage of a favorite bush or flower. As I creep closer, careful to not scare away my quarry, I am rewarded with a glimpse into the life of a caterpillar munching away on a leaf, or perhaps a beautiful butterfly drinking her fill from one of the pretty flowers put in the garden just for her, or maybe it is a pair of stink bugs engaged in a love embrace as they shyly retreat under a  leaf. Whatever it is, it is sure to fascinate me and cause me to smile. Nature does that, it makes us smile. Can you walk into your garden and catch sight of a spring batch of baby bunnies and not smile? Can you look at a large swallowtail butterfly nectaring at the flowers in your flower bed and not smile? Can you watch momma robin feed her hungry babies, mouths all agape, a fat juicy worm and marvel at the fact that they eat those things, and not smile? Nature restores us, it rejuvenates us, it brings us back to the center of ourselves.


In this day of the electronic age, so many of the youth in this country do not know what it is like to experience the outdoors beyond the virtual world presented to them on the television or computer screen. They will never know what it is like to eat snow, or chew on timothy grass stems, or eat wild berries. To capture caterpillars and watch them mature, or to walk in the woods among the sights and smells that only timberland can bring.  Do they miss those things? Not on a conscious level, after all how can you miss what you've never had?  On a subconscious level it is a different story, their body cries out for it. It is why they are restless, bored and never satisfied. They are seeking something that can't be bought. It won't come in a can, or on a video game. The only way to find it, is to leave your home and walk outside.

I recall as a child spending hours outside. We went out shortly after the sun came up and wouldn't return to house until the sun went down. Being called into supper was a serious irritation to us. It often interrupted whatever fun we were engaged in at the time. Many times we would stay out way after dark to play a particularly challenging game of hide-and- go- seek.  My bothers and I found all sorts of things to do. We were never bored. We made our own entertainment. We built snow forts, snowmen and had snowball fights. We explored creeks, got stuck in the mud and had to figure out how to get out (we learned problem solving skills). We drank water from the garden hose, just so we wouldn't have to go inside and none of us were hurt because of it! We played "real" baseball, and football, we got dirty, we skinned knees and we wouldn't have had it any other way.

All this time spent outdoors brought me into constant contact with insects. Some welcome, some not so much. One neighborhood we lived in was across from a neighborhood swimming pool and large open fields with tall grasses. I can still smell those tall weeds and grasses when I think back. I found so many caterpillars feeding on those grasses that I was in sheer heaven. I captured many of them and took them home and placed them in an aquarium, only to learn a valuable lesson. Each species of caterpillar requires certain plants to feed on to be able to survive. Simply placing them in a container with grass was not suitable at all, unless you were doing a study in caterpillar cannibalism. Many more experiences with insects presented itself, including a neighbor girl who happened to possess a delicacy in the form of chocolate covered ants and grasshoppers. I was the brave one (ok... the dared one) who tried them. I found it not as repulsive as I first thought it was sure to be. At least I didn't puke, lets put it that way. Now I find myself partaking of such edibles merely for shock factor. Who doesn't love to see the look of revulsion on the faces of your closest friends as you slurp down a nacho flavored mealworm? "You eat shrimp, right"? I always reply when they make their varied comments about me being gross or insane. For some reason, they just don't get the connection between shrimp and mealworms. I've even been told I am a shoe-in for Fear Factor...I see it as simply a survival skill, if I am ever left stranded in the wild with no food, viola, instant protein!

Life in the outdoors has filled my life with adventure, laughter, sadness, happiness, and an overwhelming sense of peace.

We as parents, need to make the commitment to graduate our children from the couch to the yard. Let's give them the same chances we had as children, to explore, to taste, to smell, to grab a hold of their part of nature, and make memories to last them a lifetime. Who needs Ritalin when you can run off all that energy in a healthy way?


  1. I don't have kids to pass this lesson on to, but I really enjoyed your post. Those memories of playing outside with very little supervision, wandering in the woods or at the creek or in the overgrown fields, I have them, and so does my husband, and we've recognized in each other how such experiences have given us a common foundation. I must admit I feel a bit hollow when I imagine a child who has never gathered ladybugs or learned to recognize a copperhead snuggled up in the pinestraw, who's never gone swimming in a muddy creek or climbed a tree, discovered -- and carefully not touched -- a nest with two precious turquoise robin's eggs in it, or held her breath at the sacred feeling when a doe steps into a clearing and you're downwind and she doesn't sense you yet.

    In this case, I think you can miss something you've never had. Our species is adapted to certain conditions, and it wasn't by sitting at a computer screen that the great minds and souls of history developed... I was just telling my sister and brother-in-law yesterday my wish for 2010 is for all human beings to fall in love with the earth again, in whatever form that takes.

    Happy 2010 to you! And thanks for teaching me so much, glad I stumbled across your blog in the last days of 2009 :)

  2. Meredith you've made my day like nothing else could have. Thank you so much for your comment. I loved reading about your own adventures in the wild. It saddens me to my soul that children these days are "missing out" on so much. They don't realize it, because they've never had it. I firmly believe it is the adults responsibility to motivate their children and get them involved in nature. I personally know many "grown-ups" that have forgotten how to be children, they've forgotten the freedom of youth and the desire to explore. They are content to let their kids fall through the cracks and assume they will be fine. We have in this country record numbers of suicide, drug abuse, depression, and anger among children as in no time in our past. Why? It's because of the disconnect to nature. Our children don't need counselors, medication, hospitalization, rehabilitation. They NEED parents who pay attention to them, and a reconnect with the outdoors. Be it camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, mushroom hunting, bug hunting, whatever their interest is, as long as it is away from the television and video games. There is nothing natural about killing zombies, and roll-playing violence. PARENTS---Listen UP..give your children the same experiences you had. Let them feel the joy of all things wild!

  3. P.S. Meredith, HAPPY 2010 you also. I got so wrapped up in my soapbox speech I forgot to tell you (LOL). One of the reasons I enjoy volunteering so much for the Missouri Department of Conservation is because it puts me in contact with children all the time and I am able to get them outside and involved in the World around them. They are transported into a world so much better than any video game can provide. It is a world of not only sight, but of sound and smell. I was recently given a job the MDC as a part-time on staff naturalist. I will be able to reach so many more children and I have so many ideas scrambling around in my brain I fear I may short circuit.

    Be safe, Be happy and enjoy whatever the New Year has in store for you.

  4. That sounds like a perfect job for you! I'm sure your passion will translate to them very well. You don't know who you will touch, which children you will reach. There are such long-range consequences for even small changes in a child's trajectory and worldview.

    Sometimes I do get fearful for what we are becoming, with video games and medicating so many of this generation of children and the indiscriminate killing of anything but GMO seeds in our fields, designed to resist our superpoisons... but then, part of the problem, I know, is fear.

    Many kids *and* adults fear the outdoors nowadays, either because they don't recognize it, never got to know it, or because they've listened to too many sensationalist media stories about germs and snake bites and forest trail serial killers.

    I think, actually, that bugs might be a kind of doorway out of that fear. They're small enough to appear unthreatening (for the most part), they go against our sanitized aesthetic that makes a housewife shudder if she sees a spider (I admit I leave most of my household spiders alone), and once you start watching their little lives, you realize there's more drama and beauty there than in the best hollywood blockbuster. It's just on a different scale, and it's a whole different world.

    Glad to have connected with you. Once again, congrats on a wonderful blog! You are teaching me a lot.

  5. Great post! I have two little ones who are already being taught the names of the birds, etc. (and they are only 16 months old).

    Happy New Year!

  6. Meredith I just love reading your comments. They are so very close to the truth about the upcoming generation. I admit to have my own slight fears being out alone these days on a hiking trail, but that is easily overcome, take along a friend. It makes the time so much more enjoyable to experience with a friend. I would never advocate sending small children out alone to conquer the natural world. That is what we grown-ups are for. To get them outside and help them overcome their fears and teach them what a wonderful and grand place this Ol World of ours actually is. If children learn to love and appreciate nature, they will surely grown to love themselves and others as well.

    I am so excited about the new job, but a bit scared as well. I want so badly to live up to expectations that everyone seems to have in me. I love working with the children and getting the opportunity to teach them about the outdoors. I've been given the chance in life to reach these kids and show them how lucky we are to have such wild places to go to. I make sure to stress that they do not have to go far....wild things are in their yard, local parks, their grandparents yards...etc. When I am done with a program or hike and am given the chance to listen to the kids excitedly talking among themselves about all the things they saw, or touched or smelled, I know I did a good deed.

    Thank you so much for the congratulations, and I will keep you posted how it goes!

    Take care

  7. Moe: I am so glad to hear that you are getting your girls involved in the outdoors. They are never too young to be exposed to nature. Just think what knowledge they will be able to pass along to their kindergarten class....I bet none of the other kids will know what a cardinal or blue jay is....LOL