One day, on a walk with her kindergarten class through a wild meadow, my mother came across a large blacksnake. Most teachers then – and since – would have hustled the kids away, but not Mum. She gathered the children around in a big, hushed circle, surrounding the frightened snake. It stayed motionless. When everyone had had a good long look, she walked slowly toward the snake until it suddenly slithered off through an opening in the circle. I think she was teaching her class an important lesson, one which we, her own children, were taught many times: to see the beauty in every creature, and through that, never to learn to fear. In the decades since, I have often seen adults do the opposite, conveying to children their fear of an animal. Children are extremely sensitive to the signals they receive from adults about how to view a creature or situation: with fear or with love. I believe this is one of the most important things for adults to keep in mind when helping children learn to love nature.
Mum had always loved every kind of animal, and once told us this story about how, as a young girl, she had helped a yellow jacket:
I played alone in the garden a great deal when my brother was at school. Once in the high summer, somebody had taken out a deck chair, and just threw it down, half on the flower bed and half against the lavender bush. The chair had broken a big garden-spider web. I don’t know where the spider had hidden away, but hanging among all the shreds of this web was a little thing like a papoose. It was just over an inch high, and up at the very top of it, two tiny black lines were moving. I thought, “Oh, how dreadful! A yellow jacket is going to die like that!”
So I ran indoors and got some toothpicks, matchsticks, and little sharp things that I could get hold of, and settled down in that chair. It was in the blazing sun, and I figured that would help him, encourage him, and keep him warm. I spread my dress out straight and flat, laid him on it, and started picking away at the terrible tangle of web. It went on, and on, and on. After a while, the web itself began to peel, as if it had stuck together like a skin. The whole thing went much quicker toward the end. I did him from the top end, because I figured the bottom end had better come out last!
When he was really free, he stood on all six legs on my lap and looked around, cleaning himself immaculately. Then he flew away. He flew over the wall, and far, far away into the blue sky. While I watched, he swung around and came all the way back, made a little circle around me, then flew away again out of sight! That has always stayed with me.
Now it’s your turn: How did a parent or other adult instill a love of animals in you? Use the form below to share a thought or story about learning respect for nature.