Last weekend, as we were finishing our quest for blackberries, leaving the farm shop with buckets in hand, we met a middle-aged couple walking in from the parking lot.
The woman asked, “Were they easy to pick?” We had to say yes to that – we’d picked far more than we intended, actually. The berries were big and ripe, and just about fell off the vine.
She continued, “Were there snakes?”
Ummm… well, no, but… is this a legitimate concern for people going to an orchard, a farm field, etc? Was she expecting that we had to shoo away a big pile of serpents to get to the berries? Would “only five” have been an acceptable answer? I couldn’t wrap my head around the scenario she had in her mind, so even though I knew the answer she wanted to hear, this was a tough one to give with a straight face.
“How about ticks?”
Well, ok, this question made a little more sense, and again I sensed the correct answer was, “No”, but the truth was probably, “Of course, but we haven’t found any crawling on us yet”. We reached an unspoken compromise and answered, “Not that we know of”.
That was the entire exchange, maybe 7 seconds. I was taken aback by it, and walked away feeling very sorry for these people. I could imagine them sitting at home thinking about what to do on a gorgeous summer afternoon, and almost ruling out a stop by the berry farm because those places are notoriously overrun with snakes and ticks. And rabid raccoons, too, probably. On the other hand, I have to give them credit – still harboring some concerns, obviously, but they were THERE.
Now, I know not everybody is “outdoorsy”, but this, in a lot of ways, is why I decided to start giving life to Flying Squirrel Outdoors. In our modern age, there’s a rapidly growing piece of the population that doesn’t know, or care, about any place that isn’t pest-free and climate-controlled. Everything else is unknown, and therefore scary. It’s not just urbanites, it’s increasingly affecting our kids (parents’ fears and protective instincts are passed on), and it’s not healthy.
Aside from Scouts (which I’ve supported for a while), I’ve been looking for ways to use this alter-ego of mine as a platform to do other things, while keeping my day job. Thanks to my friend Christine, I was able to connect with the local school system, and this week did my first (of 5 scheduled) volunteer sessions teaching outdoor “stuff” to about 40 elementary and middle school kids – we talked about local poisonous plants, spiders and snakes, along the lines of recent posts, with the theme of focusing on actual dangers vs. the trend of imagining that EVERYTHING is hazardous.
This is rewarding stuff, particularly when I see the kids walking away having learned something. I want to find ways to get these kids comfortable, immersed, and APPRECIATIVE of nature. Next steps will be getting as many outside as I possibly can. For now, these little snippets of education are an opportunity, and something to which I’m happy to devote some time.
This week, as expected, I got a lot of very good questions from the kids about poison ivy, copperheads vs. corn snakes, etc – and I also got a lot of good questions from parents. After our session, one 6th-grader came up with his mom and told me, in a very grown-up way, “I’ve never encountered that [black widow] spider before. I had just heard that all spiders were poisonous and so I’ve been afraid of all of them. I don’t LIKE spiders, but if I’ve never even SEEN one of those I guess I shouldn’t be that worried, especially if all those others can’t really hurt me.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. For some reason, this simple restatement of my premise made me picture this young man at a nearby berry farm…
Get Out There