Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Thoughtful, the Interesting, the Mundane and the Mysterious

This little fellow, a juvenile woodcock... OK, laugh, get it out of the way, and get serious, people, because this is the thoughtful portion of the entry... so anyhow, this little fellow had quite a day today, as his nest and life were disturbed by a great number of students. It made me ponder one of the hardest questions in my field. You see, I am where I am because of nature. I work in a school, but I am an EE person first, last and foremost. I care deeply about the preservation of the natural world and I do what I do because I think it is important for tomorrow's citizens to understand and care about nature. To want to preserve it themselves.

Unfortunately, there are times when teaching kids to love nature actually harms nature. And then you have to weigh the costs and benefits. On the one hand, some wildlife -- plants, insects, birds, whatever it is on a given day -- is harmed. Maybe even killed. Maybe it's even something really rare and special. Obviously, this is, to use a terribly non-descriptive word, bad. But if you don't let the kids into the nature, the result might be even worse. A generation -- which will eventually come into power -- that has never been in nature. Doesn't respect it, doesn't love it, doesn't feel connected to it, isn't willing to pay more taxes to preserve it or do any of the other numerous things that people can do to help it.

Now, I am not a person who believes nature is for people. I believe in the intrinsic value of nature, that it has its own worth apart from how people enjoy it or even depend on it. I understand the importance of biodiversity to the ecosystem. But I want other people to think these things, too, and it's hard to learn about something without experiencing it. And it's impossible to learn to love something without experiencing it.

It reminds me of the memorable passage in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, where he interviews conservation professionals. He asks them, what got you to where you are today -- in other words, why did you become a conservation professional. They all told some version of a story in which, as youth, they explored wild spaces and built forts, played hide-and-seek, or did whatever kids do. They he asked them if they would allow kids to do those things in the wilderness areas they worked at... and the answer was a resounding NO. Ironic...

Our wilderness and our world has changed. When those professionals were running through the woods, a lot of them probably weren't running through forest preserves, but rather more like undeveloped areas that nobody managed. There aren't a lot of those left in this area. The open spaces are managed, and someone takes them personally. They don't want people to go off the trail. This might be OK if the trails I was talking about were paths... small, for foot traffic... paths where you can feel close to nature. Around here, they make an entirely different brand of multi-use trail. They're about 8-10 feet of gravel, with 3-4 feet of mower turf grass on either side. We're talking a highway 14-18 feet in width. You could drive a car on these trails. In fact, I've seen that happen many a time. These trails make you feel removed, as separate from nature as if you were on a road. They're fitness trails, not commune with nature trails. Kids (and adults) need to commune with nature.

It's all a matter of numbers, really. If one kid explores in the woods, it's not a big deal. Something might get stepped on but most things come back from that. If a hundred kids do the same thing, it causes a lot more damage. It's more of a trampling by a herd than a little step. So yeah, as population, and population density, increase around here, there's more stresses on the wildlife. But the real problem is that in today's world, at least around here, one kid doesn't go into the wilderness anyway. For one thing, a lot of kids don't have access anyhow. But for another, we're constantly worried about their safety. Kidnappers and ... I actually heard a group of moms worrying about coyotes the other day. Really. At any rate... Kids don't roam free as they used to. And so, we (well, there's a small movement at least) are trying to do it in school, safely and with supervision. But this means volume. One class of kids makes a big impact. A whole school makes an even bigger impact. So you see...

It's a conundrum. But I'm tired, it's been a long day. I'm finished with thoughtful.

So... on to the interesting.
This Cooper's was in my yard when I got home. I didn't want to disturb it so I took the photo on the left through the window. Later, when it flew off, I went outside. On the right is what was left of the robin that has lived its last moments in my yard.

And finally, the typical mundane phenology updates of the day.
Wild strawberries got their first flowers.
As did foamflower.

We saw 3-6 (depending on they were repeats) sandhill cranes today, and coots and maybe some other non-mallard ducks but I had neither binoculars or a bird book, so we'll never know if we saw the shovelers that had reportedly been in the area.

Finally...Mystery of the day:
Can anyone ID this plant (shown from above and a closer view of the stalk). The whole thing was maybe 6 inches (tall and across).


  1. Great post, Naomi. Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

  2. Nice post. I was quite free ranging as a child and I imagine a herd of me going across the landscape would have made quite an impact. I've done a lot of outdoor education programs through my work and on every outing, I like to inclcude time spent in non-sensitive areas where the kids can explore as intrusively as they think necessary.

    Your mystery plant looks like a species of Pedicularis, Lousewort. I have Pedicularis canadensis here and it looks very similar to that shown in your photos.