One of Those Families
In celebration of Blog Action Day, I'm posting some memories spurred by the No Child Left Inside movement. This is a national move to reconnect kids with nature. It was spawned as a response to the influential book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Growing up, there were any number of families in my home town whose identities revolved around one shared interest. The Cs were the sports family. Their four sons all dominated on the football and basketball teams in my high school. The Ss were the artistic family, the Ts were into music and the Ws were avid skiers. My family dabbled in several of these areas, but we weren’t immediately associated in everyone’s minds with them. We weren’t one of those families.
Mostly we hung out together. In our case, hanging out meant walks in the woods. Or fishing trips. Or weekend day trips to Cape Cod, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or the coast of Maine. Self-guided trails with their pamphlets identifying flora and geological features figured prominently on those weekends. We became adept at locating the brown and white signs along the highways- the ones that directed to various natural features. Trips to Cape Cod meant the nature trails that threaded the National Seashore. New Hampshire meant the Kancagamus Highway and Franconia Notch.
My family’s travel activities were extensions of the kinds of things that we enjoyed doing together while we were at home. We started feeding the birds when I was in kindergarten or the first grade. I got my first butterfly net from the Easter Bunny at about the same time. Audubon’s Birds of North America and The Golden Guide to the Butterflies and Moths were both well-thumbed volumes in my household. Even today, although I’m considered the one who knows all about butterflies- every member of my immediate family can still identify many of the common species from southern New England.
Butterflies figured prominently throughout growing up. I remember having a butterfly net with me for most of the summers through junior high school. Even in high school, I was keeping live butterflies, mostly smaller species like blues, alive for weeks in small cages, feeding them sugar water. I remember taking a caged American Copper butterfly with us when we went apple picking in southern New Hampshire and marveling at still having the live butterfly in my possession when it snowed that afternoon. How could I have known then that my future career was being played out that day?
I guess at the time that I never thought of us as being a science family. My parents had no formal science training- indeed my dad was the first member of his family to receive a college degree. I think that my parents were always a bit bemused- proud, but bemused- that all of their kids spent at least some of their professional lives in science. Of the six members of my generation- myself, two sibs, and our spouses- four of us today make our livings as scientists.
Our interest in science did not grow out of having parents who were scientists. It grew out of having parents who were in love with the natural world, and who took the time to share it with us. To this day, our family remains very aware of the environment and of the changes happening in it. I can’t imagine living any other way. After all, we were one of those families.