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 have to know faces in the natural world. They have to care. They have to go there often, with passion, with vision, with curiosity.

The children will follow where we lead them.




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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. This is the best stated argument for teaching natural history, Fred. I hope I will not forget it. Please re-publish it in as many places as possible.

  2. Thanks for the push, Kathy. I posted it at Richard Louv’s Child and Nature Network on Facebook. Rich asked if he could use it as a guest post for the C&NN blog–which should get it before a good many more eyes than it reaches via Fragments. And maybe, to a more resonant readership, even if it is “the choir.”