Posts Tagged With: Outdoor Life

Grubs, Roots and Shoots: Inspiration from Jane Goodall

Copyright © Jane Goodall Institute of Canada

I met Jane Goodall once. I was an eager student of anthropology and had been devouring every book on primates and paleoanthropology I could find, including all of Goodall’s work. Miraculously, she came to speak at my college, and I planned to skip out of my favorite class to hear her presentation. In the week leading up to her appearance, I busily wrote out all the questions I wanted to ask her, just in case there was a chance to talk one on one. I tried to come up with complex questions, not ones that just anyone off the street would ask, oh no; these would be questions that showed I not only read her books but could offer deep insight into her findings.  I was certain it would lead to a lively and stimulating exchange of ideas, and that this would be one of the better networking moments of my anthropological career.

When the presentation ended, I hurried to the back of the auditorium to line up for her book signing. Along with every other person there. The line wrapped around the room, and it became clear to me that I was going to have about 30 seconds to impress Dr. Goodall. I was doomed. My hands got clammy and started to shake. As my turn approached, all rational thought deserted my brain. I reached out with my sticky hand, and barely  managed to choke out a strangled, “I liked your book,” before receiving a cursory thank you and being guided away by the handlers. I had choked.

All of this has little to do with today’s post except to emphasize my long-standing science crush on Jane Goodall.

"Grub the Bush Baby" is the photo story of Jane's son's first two years in the forest at Gombe.

In 1967, Jane Goodall brought her months-old son into the field with her at Gombe in Tanzania. Her careful observation of the reserve’s chimpanzees had shown her that they hunted, and often killed the young of other primates in the area, and she was concerned about the safety of her young son. In order to protect him from both the chimps and the many other wild animals in the area, she built him a cage. Both she and her son slept in it at night, and though it was painted a cheery blue and decorated with birds and stars, she received heavy criticism from a number of people about her child rearing methods. But she always maintained that “Grub”, as she nicknamed him, had led an extraordinary childhood. She took her parenting cues from the chimpanzees she studied, and noticed that, “chimp mothers… that were affectionate and tolerant raised babies that had good adult relationships and were successful community members”(Quote from Jane Goodall by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan).  She took six years away from direct fieldwork to raise him, and he accompanied her in her research travels around the countryside.

Grub grew up running around the forests and plains of Africa, and in the process learned firsthand the value of the wild creatures surrounding him even when they were a direct danger to his family. Goodall has since formed the Jane Goodall Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting humanitarian, environmental and animal protection efforts around the globe. As part of the institute’s efforts to reach out to youth, Goodall formed a  program to help children become actively involved in influencing the world around them. Roots and Shoots encourages youth-led campaigns to effect positive change in the three focus areas of the institute, and helps kids identify how they can make a difference. Anyone can form a Roots and Shoots group, and there are thousands of children now working on service projects related to the program. For folks looking to not only get their kids out into the woods but also teach them to preserve those things they love, this program seems like a great way to get started. You can search for local groups, or learn how to start your own here.

Categories: Infants, Inspiration, Outdoor Life, Toddlers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small Adventures: Moonlight and Horseshoe Crabs

A mating pair of horseshoe crabs heads into deeper waters. Sean Donohue©2011

Around the full and new moons in May and June, a strange phenomenon occurs all up and down the Atlantic Shores of the US: the spawning of the horseshoe crabs. Sean and I first discovered this event about 8 years ago when we set off on an evening paddle to watch the full moon rise over a nearby bay. As we paddled close to shore, we noticed piles of horseshoe crabs in the shallows and along the beach. On closer inspection, we realized they were mating, and thus began our fascination with these strange prehistoric animals. Where we go we’ll often see a dozen or two mating pairs in a single trip, but there are places where the crabs are more abundant, and hundreds of pairs pile up on the beach.

Horseshoe crabs look ancient, and in fact their origins predate most species on the planet. These living fossils are covered in spiny body armor and have a long, spike-like tail that they use for righting themselves if they become flipped upside-down. During Mating, the male clings to the females back, and they stay linked for  hours. The female will then dig a hole in sand or mud, and the male will fertilize the 60-120,000 eggs as she lays them. These eggs are an important food for at least 11 species of migratory shorebirds, as well as many other small shore animals. After mating, the male and female separate, and head off into deeper waters.

The mating of the horseshoe crabs is a great natural event to look for with kids. The crabs themselves are fascinating with their spiny armour and long spiked tail, and the presence of so many in one place can be awe-inspiring. Add in some moonlight and an expedition that involves flashlights, and the event becomes even more fun. It’s also a great chance to show kids how to observe nature without touching (and potentially disturbing a special moment for the crabs). If you are doing nature journaling with your kids, this is an exciting observation to write about.

Image via Creative commons

If you want to find popular spawning locations near you, the University of Delaware’s Horseshoe Crab Spawning Website  has a great page with an interactive map  that will help you plan your trip. I particularly like their tip about using a red filter on flashlights and camera flashes when doing night observations to avoid blinding the animals for an entire tidal cycle.

Categories: Ideas, Outdoor Life, Preschoolers, School Age, Toddlers, Trip Planning | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarantula Snacks and Wilderness “Norming”

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.

Categories: Ideas, Outdoor Life, School Age | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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