Monday, April 05, 2010


In a few weeks I will be on a panel discussing children and the natural world: Is the interaction becoming less common in the age of electronic play, and, if so, is something important being lost?

I will have things to say here about these questions after the event. For the moment, I invite your input.

Certainly, my childhood pals and I ran wild in the woods, building "forts," damming streams, catching snakes and crawfish. We were lucky to have access to a near wilderness of woods, drainage ditches, ponds -- a near-enough wilderness to be reasonably safe, a wildness enough to invite discovery of the unfamiliar.

Discovery. That was what I took away from my childhood sojourns in the woods. The joy of finding something new. The same thrill that sent Columbus out across the ocean blue, and Burton and Speke in search of the source of the Nile. On a more minor scale, of course. Our new continent might have been something as common -- but exotic -- as a yellow-spotted newt. Our Lake Victoria might have been a woodland stream in spate after rain. I think of what E. O. Wilson wrote at the end of his autobiography: "A lifetime can be spent in a Magellanic voyage around the trunk of a single tree." I've been circling that tree ever since.

As readers of The Path will know, I am still lucky enough to have access to a near wilderness, acres of land in the care of the Natural Resources Trust of Easton that I traverse every day on my walk to college. I have walked that one mile many thousands of times and I have never failed to find something new. What's the point? Is there an intrinsic value to novelty? I can only speak for myself. Novelty is the spice that turns the hamburger of the daily grind into a gourmet meal.