Nature walk

Brought up the rear on the elementary class daily nature walk. I'm subbing in the classroom this week, and enjoying it very much. Our walk is along a little creek behind some dental offices. The children have been taking this walk after lunch for about a month, but this was my first time.

Most of the kids want to see how much dirt they can churn as they walk, or how far they can yank the arm of their nature buddy system partner, of course. Some want to call out descriptions of each piece of litter they see. Most want to find the ducks they've seen before, and feed them, but they are too loud. A few do a great job spotting birds, including some mourning doves camouflaged against the dirt bank of the creek. Some of them are already hooked. They are the ones trying to point out the robin on the branch, or scanning the tree where they saw the woodpecker last time for the slightest movement.

Contemplating a job change last fall, I thought I was done with teaching and good riddance. Teaching had never been my career plan. Funny, though, I find myself wanting to share with these little nature-walkers the joy of noticing the color of the brackish olive creek water, the soggy silver quality of the spring sky filled with windblown seeds. I want them to question why they draw that darn yellow smiling sun in the corner of their paper. Look around! Look up! Where is the corner of the sky? Where is that yellow sun?

Bird-watching is one of my most powerful connections to my mother. What wonderful hours we spent pouring over the pages in the field guide, studying details of color, markings, movement, song. Sometimes these discussions were on the phone long distance, each of us turning the pages in our own bird book. I can't help it. I'm wondering how the school could combine its Grandparents Day observance with a day of bird observation. Like learning to sit quietly with a bamboo pole and a red/white fishing bobber, watching for birds is best learned from someone older, more patient and experienced, very loving, but mildly disapproving.

My walking partner keeps his eyes on his shoes. When other children try to show him the robin, his attitude is all, "yeh, yeh, I got it, okay."

"What was that bird?," I ask him.

"Hummingbird," he says.

"Hmmm. What color was it?"

"Kinda black."

"Hmmm. Anything special about its tummy?"

"Kinda grayish. Mockingbird." His eyes never leave the dirt cloud stirred up by his shoes.

I am engaged. I can't help it. I want to teach him that the impact of observing nature is far more exciting than observing his impact on nature. I want him to hear the poetry in the names of mourning cloak butterflies, Queen Anne's lace, of cedar waxwings, and painted buntings. I want him to discover that a great blue heron standing in shallow water looks ever so much like a skinny, elderly uncle dressed for an evening at the symphony.


© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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