I grew up in Canadian, Texas…a very tiny town in a very large state. Tucked up in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle off the Caprock this tiny town of rolling hills was fairly isolated. The nearest “real” shopping was in Amarillo…some 100 miles away. We lived on the edge of town and when you stepped outside and looked to the north, there was nothing there for as far as the eye could see. There were small rolling hills and some trees and you could see the river valley several miles away and a railroad track beyond the river. This was my playground. I was a wild child.
Obviously this was not a new or radical idea at the time. We all grew up roaming the countryside, building forts out of any materials we could round up…Johnson grass one year…climbing trees and playing from dawn until dusk away from our homes. We were fearless. The thought of getting hurt or kidnapped wasn’t a thought at all.
We got dirty…oh so filthy…and my mother often had us strip down outside on the porch before we could enter the house. She would yell from the other side of the screen door, “Give me your clothes!” and we obediently disrobed, handed her our clothes and made our way to the bathtub.
There were never restrictions as best as I can remember as to where or how far we could roam. There were usually several kids involved and typically my dad’s hunting dogs trailed us. We often packed a lunch…peanut butter and jelly or pickles or sugar and butter sandwiches…and we didn’t return until we heard the distant sound of my mother’s whistle calling us home. These are my roots.
In January 2003 my then husband and I bought a small farm outside of Austin, Texas. My daughter Caroline was eight years old and these 56 acres were about to become her playground. We weren’t quite sure what we were going to do with the farm when we purchased it. To me it seemed like a ‘guy-thing’ to want land, but I now, very clearly, understand that yearning.
I was homeschooling Caroline at the time having taken her out of public school after first grade. We were involved in several homeschooling communities, and I wanted to start teaching these kids science using gardening and general exploration as the medium. And so that spring I began classes for a small group of kids.
These classes were completely hands-on. We planted and tended a vegetable garden. We made worm boxes to take home to feed the worms. We explored the farm and the creek, and it was during these first classes that I knew I had to do something more.
We were tramping our way across a field of high grass one hot, sunny morning. There were whiners already complaining about the heat and, god forbid, bugs. There was a hardy crop of grasshoppers that year and with each step we sent several long-legged creatures flying. We couldn’t return to the farmhouse quick enough that morning, and by the time we arrived, one little boy in his shorts and cowboy boots was beside himself. He had had enough of the bugs and he was making all of us pay the price. This, of course, was the same little boy that screamed when I tried to hand him an earthworm weeks before.
Children complaining about being outside, getting dirty, and holding worms was the roots for my butterfly farm. With that hike across the grasshopper-laden field I knew I had my work cut out for me. I knew that something was wrong when kids just didn’t know how to be outdoors.
I pondered the question then and I still wonder, how can we protect the very earth that sustains us if we don’t even know how it works? It is human nature to protect that which we are deeply connected, that which we love. But how are we going to take care of the grasshoppers and grasses if we have no connection? Worse yet…if we have no desire to connect?
In the spring of 2004, Wild-Connections Butterfly Farm & Nature Center hosted the first of many field trips. Our purpose…”to educate our youth about our native plants and animals. It is our hope that children become so intrigued with their experiences at Wild-Connections that they choose to explore the world around them and, in time, develop a sense of awe and empathy toward all life.”
Although the farm has since closed, I feel it is even more important than ever to get ourselves and our children outside. Plant your own wildlife garden to enjoy and share. Need some help? Poke around on the blog, email me, send me a message, or give me a call.
Let’s make 2015 the Year of the Garden!