I grew up in a big city but still acquired an appreciation of nature. Our house lay on the edge of the city beside a wood. I remember that wood as it was. What it became later serves as a metaphor for all the ecosystems that have suffered from thoughtless human depredation. In its glory years, though, each spring brought a rich carpet of bluebells. Nearby there was pond where we collected frog spawn and took the eggs home to watch them develop into tadpoles.
It seems that many children today are not as fortunate. Perhaps part of the
reason is that many of us now do not have lifestyles that are connected with the natural world. Also, In my generation there wasn’t the distraction of technology to keep us indoors. We were allowed to roam widely and explore everything in our surroundings, including the bluebell-filled wood, something that would likely horrify modern parents.
While growing up I was encouraged to take an interest in what was going on around me by both my parents and teachers. My innate curiosity was fed by the interest of others, but also because there were natural things for me to
explore. Gifts of books about animals and nature added to our interest and encouraged us to look more closely at our environment. Even something as simple as planting nasturtium seeds in our small garden plot made us feel a connection with the natural wonders of germination and rebirth. I don't want to paint too idyllic a picture. We were working class and not particularly affluent. While we did not have access to abundant resources, there was a sense of value in learning and education that made us rich in more important ways.
When we think of the environment we tend to think of places like the Brazilian rain forest or Yosemite. We often watch nature programs on television but fail to recognize that our backyard is also part of the greater ecosystem. This apparent lack of connection between our daily lives and the natural world often deprives our children of the natural wonders on their own doorstep. By missing the treasures in our own gardens we also miss a great opportunity to educate our children about their place in nature. However, in many of those gardens we have constructed things such that nature's treasures are pushed aside or do not want to visit.
Today we need to encourage an interest in the natural world in children more than ever. But it needs to result from a direct, hands-on experience, that belongs to, and becomes part of them. How do we achieve this? One way to begin is to examine our total lifestyle in terms of how it relates to the planet.
Do we sigh with regret about the rainforest but spray our gardens with pesticide? Do we advocate the use of solar energy but drive vehicles that give low mileage? Do we build monstrous single-family houses on prime farming land or unique habitat areas and worry about the environment in some abstract sense that requires no change in what we do? We need to relate the choices we make with the larger environmental problems. There is no "them" and "us," only us.
When we appear to care more about the condition of our lawns than the exposure to chemicals of our children who play on them, who is at fault? This "cognitive dissonance," the disassociation of our individual behavior from environmental problems is an easy trap to fall into in the complex, busy society we live in. It is important, therefore, to find time to really think about these issues. Most importantly, do we educate our children about the environment as an abstract, distant place, remote from our local concerns and activities, or do we involve them in the marvellous natural world all around them and show them how they are a fundamental part of it.
This blog post introduces an occasional series that will discuss what can be done to create wildlife-friendly gardens based on our experience of maintaining a backyard habitat for two decades. In future posts we'll learn about backyard habitats, attracting butterflies, using native plants in landscaping and other topics that can improve your imact on the local environment.