Growing up in a concrete city constantly hearing sirens, cars beeping, people shouting and radios blaring made me acutely aware of my need for greenery as a child. Add to that the fact that grass turns beige in the winter time and sidewalks are riddled with round patches where people have discarded their over-chewed chewing gum makes New York City a pretty grey looking place during the day. Suffice it to say I grew up on the whole pretty much nature-deprived.
People are often surprised when they visit New York City and discover that fence enclosed school parking lot is in fact not the parking lot but the kids’playground.
If you were lucky, the basket-ball nets gave it away and perhaps there was a hopscotch area. If you were even luckier, there might be a few square holes cut into the concrete where a tree grows out of each of them. I suppose I was luckier still, as in my school there was a bench under one of these trees. I can’t say that I fully understand the connection between man and nature but I certainly sensed this connection as a child. I yearned for nature and that one tree in the school yard of P.S. 127 with the bench next to it felt almost like my salvation during recess. I sat next to it and discreetly sent loving thoughts to it and in a small, hopeful way imagined that I received something back. Yet all around this school yard was this ten foot high fence. It was there to keep us children safe but I often felt the real danger was within this enclosure and in the summer, the ice cream truck would be there….on the other side of the fence which was really unfair.
When I began to have children, there came a time when I made the decision to home-school my oldest three. Gone would be the the fenced playground were animosity lurked. It would be replaced instead by the loving walls of our home and in warm weather frequent trips to Bear Mountain and Sunken Meadow Beach. This was almost always preceded by nature lessons. I recognized the hunger for nature in my children evidenced in their excitement when we went to the beach for the first time on a day in October (having a red-headed child made beach excursions in the summer a bit dangerous for her fair skin). Having learned in lessons what we might find at the beach, the children kept joyfully exclaiming over every new recognized item which they had learned about in their books.
Another memorable day came after we were learning about insects. (Incidentally, not Tara’s favourite thing about the natural world. In fact, she began to affirm that she hated nature because of her aversion to insects). We were hiking in Bear Mountain when one of the children found something they instantly recognized from the picture in their nature book–a Woolly Bear Caterpillar. If you have ever seen a Woolly Bear Caterpillar, you will probably agree that as caterpillars go they are pretty special and aptly named. Check out the picture below:
Brittany was the most excited of all. She held this caterpillar and sheltered it within her cupped hands for the rest of the outing. When it was time to come home, she wouldn’t part with it. I tried to explain to her that it was much better for the caterpillar to stay in it’s natural environment but she was so insistent that in the end we all got into the car and drove home.
Brittany fell asleep in the car and when we got home she was pretty disorientated. I called her attention to the caterpillar and she brought it out of the car and put it down in the front garden. The next morning she was pretty upset and insisted she never let it go in the front garden. In her mind, this was suppose to have been her pet. We looked all over the garden for the caterpillar but couldn’t find it. I explained to her that although she took great care of Woolly Bear, he needed to be free to make his cocoon in order to become a beautiful Tiger Moth. Letting go is not always an easy lesson to learn but perhaps if we’re lucky, we can have the joy of seeing them fly.