Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind...

Ahh, spring.

With apologies to my allergic friends, I can think of few things better than being outside on a breezy spring day. Just watching the leaves fluttering in the wind, listening to the sounds. And feeling the wind in one's hair.

Did you know that wind is created when warmer air and cooler air are "trading places?" (Actually, the gases in the atmosphere are "equalizing pressure") Maybe you know that spring is particularly windy because -at least in our part of the world-we have "warm fronts"--large, long stretches of warmer air replacing cooler air.

Well, anyway. The fun is in watching and experiencing the wind, no?

This week, while you're outside, try these things to help you and your kids really savor the breezes and the moving spring air:

Choose a tree that you love and then lie down under it. Let yourselves be mesmerized by watching the leaves flutter and blow.

Choose a tree that you love and then climb it. Let yourselves be mesmerized by being among the leaves as they flutter and blow.

How else can you watch the wind? Think of water, of seeds traveling on air, of sand moving. Pinwheels! Who doesn't love pinwheels?

Listen to the sounds of wind. Experiment with different things: You may choose to hang a windchime, a crisp flag, or you could even poke a stick through a paper bag and create a windsock. How many sounds can the wind make?

Can you feel the wind on your face, your hair? Close your eyes and turn into the wind. Open your arms.

What words can you use to describe wind? There are gentle winds, whispery winds, fierce winds, growling howling winds, and even, to quote my daughter, "lonely winds"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

reason for hope

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to hear Dr. Jane Goodall speak. She is truly an inspiration.

She gave a very compelling and inspiring speech about why she has hope for our future, and how she can manage to stay hopeful in the face of overwhelming destruction of the earth's resources.

Her 4 "reasons for hope" are:
1. The Human Brain--marvelous in its capacity for creativity and innovation, she believes we WILL stop harming the earth and reverse the damage already done;
2. The Indomitable Human Spirit--that capacity we have for compassion, altruism, and love that WILL guide us to making the right choices, and inspire others to do the same;
3. The Resilience of Nature--nature's ability to be re-born after seemingly impossible odds and the ability of populations to return after reaching the brink of extinction;
4. The Determination of Young People--she has created a worldwide network of young people involved in environmental projects. If you're a teacher, you MUST check out Roots and Shoots, and get your students involved. This is an incredible movement and involves a huge number of people. What a way to let the young people in your life know they are not alone in their concern for the environment, and what better way to let them know by empowering them to work together.

Dr Jane Goodall, the woman, is incredible. She's 76 years old, she travels over 300 days every year, spreading the message of hope and working tirelessly for the environment. She started working as a field biologist at 26 years old, and has done more work for chimps than probably anyone else on the planet. She is an ambassador for animal welfare and a UN Messenger of Peace.

But the thing that struck me the most last night was her vivid description of being a little girl. She spent a summer on her uncle's farm in the countryside of England. She was thrilled to be in such close contact with animals.

She shared a memory of "disappearing" for an entire day-hoping to catch a chicken in the act of laying an egg. When Jane finally returned home, rather than get angry and scold her, her mother sat down and listened intently as Jane regaled her with an exciting tale of her thrilling discovery. Her mother was enthusiastic and loving and believed in the importance of letting Jane make discoveries and explore nature. Throughout her speech, she mentioned her mother's support and encouragement as the single most powerful, guiding force in her life. Thanks to her mom, Jane said, she had the courage to dream of living in the jungles of Africa, and later, thanks again to her mom's love and support, she accomplished this dream and is now literally changing the world.

Won't it be wonderful when all parents and all educators can be a beacon of support and encouragement for our children as they make their own connections to the natural world! Just imagine what could happen!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

a captive audience

When I told the kids we were going to the Nature Center last week, they wanted to know if it was the one "where the snake lives"--we've visited this particular nature center many, many times and there is indeed a very large fox snake living there in a huge tank. Despite the perfect weather, as soon as we got to the nature center, the kids rushed straight inside.

They stood in awe as the snake lay there. They looked at it, watched it "crawl" up the sides of the tank.

The Nature Center director saw their interest and got the snake out so the kids could touch it. They each stuck out a tiny, tentative finger and stroked the snake's back gently. Neither child said a word, they just stood there, "petting" the snake for a few minutes, until the director had to move on to more pressing tasks. They silently watched her put the snake back into it's cage and then we went outside to play. They spent the afternoon "looking for snakes" in the leaves and stick piles.

For days afterward, they made snakes out of everything: scarves, spaghetti, and even blocks. There is a poster of snakes on J's wall and the kids traced the ribbony bodies each night with their fingers before going to bed.

Those of you who remember my old blog may recall this post I did after a trip to the zoo. I've made no secret of my misgivings about captive animals, particularly those in zoos: it seems they often lead depressing, incomplete lives and I find it really sad to encounter them.Then again, contact with "real live animals" can be literally life-changing for some people. It was for me. This is an issue I've had to sort out over the years, and my perspective has changed since I had kids. Funny how that works.

Also,I've spent many years working in nature centers myself, tending to all manner of captive animals: snakes, salamanders, turtles, even the occasional bird of prey. I've seen time and time again how direct contact with a "wild" animal can ignite something in a child: a curiosity and zeal for learning. A newfound interest in that animal. A collapse of fear about that animal, or others like it. Even, of course, a sense of connection.

Many nature center and even zoo animals are "non-releasable" for a number of reasons which could include permanent injury, physiological differences from native populations, too much time in captivity, etc. so-- is a life in a small, cramped cage better than death? Is it worth it to "sacrifice" one animal (by keeping it in captivity) if it serves as an ambassador of sorts, opening the minds of children and adults alike? What effect does it have on you or your kids to see captive animals? How do you feel about it?

These are really, really difficult questions.

I've arrived at my own conclusions. What are yours?