First Child In The Woods

May 14, 2015 - 12:08 pm

First Child in the Woods

Water Quality Protection Land Biologist Matt McCaw provides his impressions of working with school groups on Wildlands.

Springtime is here, which means field trips to the Wildlands.  School children.  Hordes of them, and their teachers. Arriving, in and of itself to our somewhat remote location, is remarkable with sixty fifth graders on a caravan of big yellow busses. 

We seat our children in windowless classrooms and lecture them on “environmental science” – biodiversity, climate change, metamorphosis.  But when we get kids out of the classroom, the metamorphosis that occurs is often within them.

This is how it usually happens:

Get them off the bus.  Off the pavement.  Hold a vertical index finger to your lips.  Keep your own mouth shut.  Watch. 

See their ill-suited footwear.  Watch them balk at the high grass.  Watch them flinch at brambles tugging on pant legs. 

Then watch them settle.  Watch their eyes open.  Watch them wake up, straighten up.  Watch them see.  Watch the unease fall away as they poke and probe and dash like a spaniel behind every bush and tree that might conceal a rabbit or a snake.  Or a bee.  See their muddy shoes. 

Hear them squeal.  Hear their questions that reveal complete and utter appalling lack of understanding of the natural world and at the same time demonstrate that there is indeed a desire to understand. 

Snap off the tender tip of a greenbrier vine.  Offer it.  Offer it again.  Watch them nibble, then watch them pilfer every greenbrier on the hill. 

Then watch them turn and trudge, grasping mementos of flowers and sticks and rocks that they have to leave, back to their bus, much too soon, and try – I dare you – try not to look disappointed to see them go.