LIVING GREEN: growing up dirty: Cultivating Good Citizens in the Great OutdoorsFrom the time we were little (really little) we kids were pressed into duty as scavengers, excavators and toters. Who better to task with yard cleanup than toddlers?
By: Susan Darley-Hill, Living North Magazine
Ob-litter-ator. Yup, my dad had one and he used it regularly. Forty years ago my mom sewed him a canvas satchel that slung diagonally across his chest and back, leaving his hands free to pick up cans, bottles, and other litter along the roads where we trekked. We would marvel, together, at the audacity of folks who flung things from their car windows – a rare point of agreement between a nice dad and somewhat sullen teenager.
From the time we were little (really little) we kids were pressed into duty as scavengers, excavators and toters. Who better to task with yard cleanup than toddlers? My dad would send his army of three to police the yard before he hauled out the squeaky lawn mower that balked at anything larger than a blade of grass. Our towering elms shed a lot of sticks, but we were the perfect advance scouts. If you’ve ever hunted agates with a 3-year-old, you understand. Equipped with eagle eyesight and a ground-level perspective, they can out collect anybody.
The woody debris and trash were gathered, but it was only much later that I realized my father’s ulterior motive was to get us outside, grubbily acquainted with the natural world. Plenty of teaching moments presented themselves through the years, but my dad rarely interpreted our discoveries through his scientific filter. He relished our reasoning for why walking sticks liked girls’ arms better and how some garter snakes had parties under logs. He didn’t complain when he fell into the jungle trap my sister and brother dug, disguised with brush to catch the abominable snowman pushing the lawn mower. In fact, he embellished and enlarged our confidence with his enthusiasm for our decidedly unscientific pronouncements about how nature worked.
Kids who feel at home outside are like an insurance policy against environmental degradation. But these living dividends must be given plenty of opportunities to establish a personal connection to their world before being asked to shoulder the job of saving it. Kids lucky enough to fish, hunt or hike with an elder learn at an early age that quiet time spent outdoors is precious and necessary. Our most renowned scientific thinkers got their start by turning over rocks and floating sticks in puddles; watching apples fall and water spin in eddies.
Engaging in a bit of “earthkeeping” during an outdoor adventure can be a fun way to model stewardship. Forty-two wild streams in the City of Duluth, alone, beg to be explored and cared for. Over 100 municipal parks, playgrounds and gardens and countless miles of trails beckon and seek your tending. Tuck a plastic bag into each explorer’s pocket. A pair of cotton gardening gloves provides enough protection for keepers to pick up a bit of litter on forays. Stop collecting when it becomes a task, and remember why you’re out there. And don’t forget to explore your own backyard, dig a hole,and catch something fantastic.
Susan Darley-Hill is an Environmental Program Coordinator for the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD).