TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

by Whit Gibbons


November 25, 2007


Look up. Look down. Look under. That is good advice for people engaged in guerilla warfare, folks playing hide the thimble, and city-dwellers taking a walk through the park. I thought about how the advice applied to city-dwellers while watching the Walt Disney movie "The Wild."

I feel certain I will not destroy your viewing pleasure by telling you that the plot involves an escape from the zoo by Sampson the lion and his friends, who include a giraffe, a python, and a koala bear. After an easy life in the zoo, with meals delivered from tray drawers in the wall, this bunch of talking animals ends up in "the wild."

Some fairly well-known personalities in the acting world signed on to do the voices of these animals. As a result, the koala, wildebeests, squirrel, and vultures have voices that sound like you might think these animals would sound if they could talk. But a talking giraffe? I thought the loudest sounds we would hear from the giraffe would be the beat of his hooves as he ran away from the lion. Oh wait, wrong movie. The lion and giraffe are friends in this one. Clearly, this is not an educational nature film.

Nonetheless, I thought a lesson could be learned from the film. People, particularly city-dwellers, have much in common with zoo animals. Those who live and work in an urban or suburban setting are really like zoo-kept animals. In place of food trays, we have grocery stores to which big trucks deliver our food each day. At night and in inclement weather, we can retreat to the safety of our covered cages, which we call houses. But unlike the denizens of real zoos, we can escape anytime we choose and experience the excitement of "the wild."

And in that reality, lies the film's lesson: get out; then look up, look down, look under.

Recently I made an escape from my own covered cage with two of my grandchildren. We went for a walk in our version of "the wild," and we were constantly on the alert for excitement. We looked up, down, and under for anything of interest, living or dead. Even on a cold day in November, we found much to appreciate.

We looked up and saw a turkey vulture, also known as a buzzard. These birds are beautiful as they glide above treetops or circle high above you. Admittedly, close up they pretty much define the phrase "a face only a mother could love." And goodness knows you don't want to get too close to anything they're eating. But a child who does not find a few moments of delight in watching the aerodynamic marvels of a buzzard or a hawk till it glides out of sight is spending too much time indoors.

Looking under logs and some pine straw revealed a couple of cold wood roaches and a spider. Big, little; vertebrate, invertebrate; colorful, dull; plant, animal--everything counts when you are tallying up what you find on a walk in the wild.

We found our most rewarding experience in the wild when we looked down. In late fall and winter, plants can provide abundant treasures. I looked down and saw a pointed, star-shaped sweet gum leaf alongside an old, but still prickly and round, sweet gum ball.

I explained to the kids that plants package their seeds in different ways. With a mission to find more kinds of packaged seeds, we looked up at a magnolia tree and then down to find one of its fruits on the ground. We removed the mahogany colored seeds tucked inside.

We continued on our way, picking up different kinds of acorns and pinecones. Given the opportunity, most children thoroughly enjoy touching and holding real life things in the wild. They find the experience far more rewarding than passively watching a movie or TV. So, in fact, do most adults.

So escape from the zoo. Take a walk in the park, the woods, even your own front yard. Enjoying the wild may simply be a matter of which way you look.



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