Unfortunately, we don’t live in the wilderness. We are lucky, however, that our yard links up with some large fields and the remnants of old family farms to form a green corridor rich enough to support foxes, wild turkey, woodchucks, rabbits, coyotes, and, as we discovered this spring when our apple trees were nearly chewed to bits, deer. Except for the deer, who were not welcomed by Sean the apple farmer, we are happy to be able to hear the occasional yipping fox late at night, and to watch the rabbits hopping around when we go for walks in local conservation lands. We’ve tried to encourage most wildlife in the yard, and have hung birdfeeders, beehouses and bat boxes to encourage natural pollinators and help the migrators along their routes.
This year we knew we’d be pressed for time to tend to the extensive vegetable gardens we usually grow, so we decided to turn one of our large garden spaces into a wildflower garden that could help support the local bee/bird/butterfly population. All summer, the garden has been alive with activity. I’ve seen hummingbirds sparring over choice blossoms, goldfinches going crazy on the coreopsis seedheads, and bees and butterflies flitting about by the dozens. The sunflowers will provide seeds for the birds to eat come autumn, and to re-seed the garden for next year’s crops, and the milkweeds will provide a valuable food source for several life stages of Monarch Butterflies.
This 200 foot square piece of yard has literally been buzzing all summer, and we’ve been thrilled to watch the tiny insect dramas playing out among the plants. While Liam is too little to fully appreciate the garden right now, as he grows I imagine we’ll spend time learning about the butterfly life cycle as we watch it play out in front of us, track bees across the yard and talk about the physics of hummingbird flight.
Lately, I’ve noticed the subject of kids and adventure sports has been appearing with more regularity in the magazines and websites I visit. I think this is great, and hope it signals a trend towards understanding and encouraging independence in kids and a move away from the culture of fear that has been present in America for the last few decades.
Recently, Outside Magazine got in on the game with its Father’s Day issue. In typical Outside Magazine fashion, the series tends to lean a little heavy toward what gear to buy rather than how to actually get kids on the trail, but it’s great to see more mainstream magazines encouraging folks to seek adventure with little ones, rather than championing overprotective parenting. Check out their tips and recommendations for how to become an Adventure Dad here.
I’m a big fan of nature documentaries in general, and BBC Nature productions in particular, so was excited when I stumbled across this clip from the new BBC series Human Planet. The clip shows very young kids in Venezuela foraging for tarantulas to grill up for snacks. Of course, these tarantulas are among the most poisonous spiders in the world, with long fangs and stiff body hairs that cause an itchy rash when they come in contact with skin. There are no adults present during the scene, and it is clear that these kids are experienced spider hunters who know the jungle landscape like an old friend.
A lot of people I’ve shown this clip to are horrified that these kids are allowed to “run wild”, or express pity that they don’t have the levels of education and protection that kids in western society have. Very few make the connection between how capable these kids are and how they were raised to become so independant. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s important to take away the idea that kids “norm” to what their upbringing allows them. A child who is taught how to survive in the jungle from an early age will become an expert at it. Place that same child in a city, and that confidence may disappear. At the same time, if we give our kids the freedom to explore the natural world around us, along with some instruction about the dangers of that world and how to avoid them, then they will “norm” to it, and become fluent in the language of their own environment. If we overprotect them and don’t give them the chance to develop critical leadership and independance skills, they will “norm” to a lifestyle where they aren’t able to make important decisions for themselves. I’m not saying encourage your children to play with poisonous spiders; maybe start with something smaller, like what’s in the backyard, or a local tidepool, or on the hiking trail. Learn together what is safe, and what is not, and let the kids lead us for a while…
Click on the picture to check out the rest of Human Planet.