Last summer, in the heart of June, the kids and I roped off a small square in the front yard, and created our very own microcosm. They found things we normally would have missed--a tiny ant under a leaf, a mottled moth's wing, the colors washed away like faded watercolors. We're all too often moved by nature on a large scale--the sweeping blue sky, a splashy sunset, the curve of a mountain against a darkening sky. I was hoping my kids would find their microcosm just as compelling, and they did.
On Monday the rainy, dreary start to the day had washed away by the time I picked up the kids from school. In the name of Green Hour, we headed outside just as soon as they'd dumped their backpacks on the kitchen floor. We went straight for the creek just beyond our backyard fence. The rain from the night before had filled it more than ever before, and the kids were delighted with the running water over the rocks, and with how deep the deepest part of the creek was (well over L.'s ankles). They splashed around happily for awhile, but then I remembered our microcosm from last June. We picked a square in the creek and marked it off with rocks, but just as we were doing that L. let out a shout of excitement: tadpoles!
(I think these might be baby salamanders--anyone know for sure?)
There were three or four of them, fat-bodied, with tiny legs scrabbling around for a foothold on the rocky creek bottom. I sent L. back to the house for a glass jar, and we caught two of them to look at, then sent them slipping away into the creek when we were done.
In the same square of creek L. lifted a flat stone and found frog's eggs underneath. And the most exciting find of all was a long, thin earthworm-looking water snake. It was irridescent and reared its little head at us when L. tried to get a closer look.
(Can you spot the snake in the photo?)
If you're struggling with ways to get your kids out into nature, or if you only have a sliver of time one day for a nature activity, try marking off a small square of yard, or grass or, if you're lucky, water. Tell your child to try and find three or four or five interesting things in that space. Remind them that even mosses and tiny plants count, too, as did the tiny water bugs we saw skimming across the creek's surface.
I felt proud of my kids, proud of the care they took to gently replace the rocks and sticks, and the interest they showed even the strangest find (a ghostly crayfish creature). I hope many things for my children, but up there on the list is the hope that they grow up to treat all life with the consideration and care even the tiniest being deserves. I hope, too, that there will always be small worlds for them to explore, rocks to lift, and marvelous wonders to uncover wherever they go.
If you're having trouble seeing all the photos to this post, you can catch them at my Flickr account, right here.