THE ENVIRONMENT NEEDS IS A GOOD AUDIENCE
March 3, 2003
granddaughter, a cousin, and three friends gave me a new perspective
on environmental education last week. Each proved to be an audience
that appreciates the offerings of nature and the outdoors. Good audiences
are essential if we are to develop and maintain the attitude that the
natural world is the most exciting entertainment we have.
A gratifying experience in environmental education is taking a child
for a stroll in the woods, alongside a stream, or even in your backyard
to look for interesting objects of nature. With the arrival of spring
endless adventures are waiting to unfold. Despite knowing the season
was too early for most animals to be visible or most plants to be in
flower, I took my granddaughter, Allison, out into the backyard to find
what we could after a recent rain shower.
She was pleased with the little gray spider I showed her tucked away
in a hole in a tree. Birds aplenty fluttered around in the trees, and
she cocked her head at the whistling sound made by the wings of a departing
pair of mourning doves. We found a gray shrew beneath a board I had
placed in the backyard to lure small creatures. She was fascinated as
the shrew scampered through one of its tunnels, the top exposed after
the board was lifted. I'm not sure as a two?year?old she appreciated
my explanation that shrews are our smallest mammals, have voracious
appetites for insects and grubs, and that this particular kind is the
only truly venomous mammal in the country. Their saliva can paralyze
prey when the shrew bites it. Nonetheless, Allison was an excellent
audience, eager for whatever we might discover next.
Her favorite treat involved trees. Playing the grade school prank, I
bumped a medium?size tree while she was under it. She was at first startled
and then delighted. "It's raining, Grandpa. The tree's raining."
Of course, I should have been able to predict that before we left the
yard, we would have to make every tree and tall shrub in the yard "rain."
My cousin Anita is the consummate adult audience for environmental thrills.
Anything wild and unusual, whether plant, animal, or rock outcrop, will
do. We saw a bluebird box on a large tulip poplar tree, and she asked
if anything might be inside. I suggested we gently open the box and
see. As I jiggled with the door, we were both startled as a flying squirrel
exited through the round hole, scampered around to the tree, and flattened
itself against the trunk a foot in front of Anita's face. She was thrilled.
I was, too, when she later proclaimed the flying squirrel incident to
have been the most exciting event of the day. Anita is a good environmental
Tom and Joyce, friends from Oregon, demonstrated that they are also
good environmental audiences with a story about Steller's jays, the
western counterparts of eastern blue jays. They told a story of placing
green grapes on a deck railing for the birds to eat; the treats were
extremely popular. They eventually substituted crackers for grapes,
a change not well received by the avian visitors. In fact, after a few
minutes of watching jays look for grapes and not eat crackers, they
noticed an arriving jay place a green acorn on the railing, clearly
a request for more green grapes. Such simple but remarkable behavior
might go unnoticed without the right environmental audience.
Finally, my friend Beth showed her environmental awareness by finding
a small gray treefrog hidden within a house plant on her porch last
month. As she told me about this, she lifted a leaf, and we saw the
little face peering out from beneath the plant's foliage. Beth was delighted
to find it was still in residence and wanted to know more about its
are the kind of enthusiastic audiences we need to help sustain our environment.
A good start is to help children find as much excitement outdoors as
they do in front of TVs and computers. I knew I was on the right path
when I heard, "Let's go outside and make the trees rain again,
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