Faceless Nature: a Familiar Lament

Child’s Play: Holding the World in the Palm of Her Hands
What they hold in their hands today–iPod or millipede–can make all the difference in where their center of importance will be in their adult lives.

Some Fragments readers might have read my Facebook post last week, where I expressed no surprise but disappointment that a nature hike was offered at the County Fair, and response was predictably underwhelming.

Some might have thought I was whining out of bruised ego that my offered time was ignored. But no. What lies at the heart of my concern is expressed in a similar lament from two years ago, and I repost it below:

Faceless Nature: A Room Full of Strangers

Earth Day, Floyd Virginia, 2014 could not have ordered up a more perfect spring Saturday in early May. Of course that same excellent weather meant some would be forced to get garden plants in the ground, now that it seems the threat of frost is past. SEEMS, I say.

My small part this year was to lead two short nature walks around the forested grounds of the Ecovillage. I had given it some thought on the drive over that morning, and had an idea what I would tell the kids that came along for the walk. It was this:

“Imagine you go into a huge unfamiliar room and find it filled with one hundred people. You do not know a one of them. They are not only unknown but they are different from you and from each other. But they are all strangers. How would you feel? Would you be happy there, comfortable, at ease, and look forward to going back? Probably not.

“Now, let’s go to another room. There are one hundred people there also. But as soon as you look out upon them, you see maybe ten familiar faces. You know their names and who they are related to. You know some are musicians, some painters, some acrobats and others magicians or singers or writers. You know their habits and their preferences. How do you feel in that room? Familiar? At ease? Like you belong and would want to go back there? Probably.

Being in the woods or pasture or meadow is much the same. If you see no familiar faces, the place will seem strange–maybe uninteresting or even a little scary. But if you look and right away see a few wildflowers you know by name, some trees you know at a glance, and hear the call of four birds you will never see but know them by their voice, that outdoor “room” will be a place where you’ll always be comfortable, a place you will care about, belong to and will want to take care of because your “friends” live there.

This is what I would have told the children at the 10:45 hike on Saturday at Earth Day. No children came.

So I’m telling this to you few readers, so maybe YOU can tell some children whose future means something to you. I could be wrong, but I’m thinking in this case, if my age peers, soon to leave this place, are to have reasonable hope for the generations that will take up the reins, ignorance of the Earth and its living things and places is not bliss. Indifference is not a neutral relationship without consequences.

The adults would serve their children and the future planet well if they knew faces and names in the natural world. They would teach their grandchildren by caring about non-human citizens in the particular and not only in a generic “nature is nice” kind of way. They would grant the next generation a legacy by taking them by the hand into the “wild”–often, with passion, with vision, and with curiosity.

The children will follow where we lead them.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I finished my teaching career 15 years go. Nature studies (with countless field trips in many different environments) was high on the curriculum lists. Has this been abandoned? Hopefully not. Children need first hand (and hands on) experience in nature.