Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Nature Newts

This morning I walked the boys over to Kiddie Korner so I could spend the day getting ready for our camping trip. M rode ahead on this bike, down the right side of the road—ride to a driveway, stop & wait, ride to the next driveway, stop & wait. On the left side, I pushed Z on the tricycle that badly needs oil, “scree, scree, scree,” and E walked ahead of us, then behind, carrying his Big Brady Doggy. I glanced back to check his progress every now and then and one time I saw him holding something red and leggy in his free hand—and Eastern newt eft (I looked it up later), bright orange with fluorescent red spots. We all looked at and admired it. M came back from his driveway to see (“It looks like it glows in the dark!”).

When I suggested we let it go back in the grass, E jumped up and down crying. I asked him what he wanted to do with it. “Take it home. Put in ‘tainer.” I suggested we take it to Kiddie Korner to show the other kids and he agreed, but when I suggested I carry it myself he pointed out that I needed to push the tricycle. So I took his doggie and showed him how to cup the salamander in his palms so as not to squish it and keep it from jumping/falling to the ground. He carried it all the way to daycare and showed it off to the other kids in the playground and then, without complaint, let M (who carried it on an open palm and kept dropping it) take it to the edge of the woods and let it go. “Find own mommy,” E said, and it’s a good thing newts aren’t strongly attached to their mothers or this one would have a very long walk back to find his.

I’m just starting to come around to the idea of “sacrificial nature”—letting my kids handle, and possibly destroy, plants and animals for the greater purpose of steeping them in the wildness around them and so they gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for nature through hands on experience of life and death. It does not come easily to me—I quake while they poke at or shake the katydid in the bug jar, or carry around and drop a spotted frog (leopard or pickerel? I’m not sure). Eventually I intervene and release the poor agitated creature. I tried to bite my tongue last week as M tore fronds from the ferns all along our hiking trail, but I finally suggested he leave some there for the animals. And though I am deeply bothered by caged animals, especially wild animals, I am considering setting up a terrarium so that we can enjoy and observe our finds for a few hours or days before releasing them. As much as I hate to see an amphibian die of internal wounds inflicted by my child, I would hate even more to turn nature into a hands-off world that my children lose interest in because they have been told, “don’t touch,” “don’t run,” “don’t climb,” “watch out,” “be careful,” too many times.

On the walk home from daycare I noticed several salamander carcasses flattened and dried to the pavement—all the rain we’re having (keep your fingers crossed that it will pass us by on our camping trip) must have them out migrating. I guess there are worse fates than being loved to death by a couple of three year olds.

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