Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wild Encounters

Originally published 3/04/2011 at

The other day I was teaching at an environmental education conference and I met a gentleman who recognized the wildlife sanctuary where I work as the place where he went to camp sixty years ago. He recalled putting peanut butter on his fingers to encourage dragonflies to land on his hand. I don’t recall ever hearing or reading this tip but I was fascinated by the magical quality of such an experience. Did that experience capture his attention so that he remained connected to the environmental field?

I few years ago I’d stand in the cold with a scattering of sunflower seeds in my palm as I would try to entice chickadees to land and snatch a seed. A few birds were brave enough or hungry enough to stop for a fraction of a second before flying off. The touch of the tiny claws was unbelievably delicate.

I would tell kids about my experience in my backyard and I’d convince them to join me in the front yard of the wildlife sanctuary. The promise of this contact with a wild animal (even a chickadee) was enough to get a group of 8-year-olds to stand like statues for 20-minutes and then ask to try again the following week.

A favorite book that I read time and again as a kid was something along the line of Pets from Woods, Fields, and Streams, about the joys and work involved with keeping raccoons, crows, and snakes. I would have adored having wild pets, although even a dog and cats were the extent of my parents’ idea of pets.

When I was in junior high, the students could explore a pond during recess. Most of us would catch the small frogs in the pond. I now know that the pond was really a vernal pool – a basin that would hold snow melt and spring rain water and create a breeding pool for many amphibians. The tiny frogs were spring peepers – I don’t remember anyone explaining any of this when I was a kid. Sticking my hand in the brown water, feeling the slime on the leaves and the squashy mud was worth the reward of holding a frog.

Although it isn’t safe to touch many wild animals (and sometimes the danger is to the animal), there is something to be said for those magical encounters with the inhabitants of the natural places we visit.

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