How to talk to children about observing nature and not touching
The Canada geese still find the energy to hiss at passersby. The great blue heron, however, occasionally dips its body into the chilly water to keep cool.
I empathize with the heron.
In the past few days, I’ve gone out with several groups, each with their own interest. There was the flower group on Wednesday. We found Oswego tea. There was the birding group on Thursday morning. They saw a red-breasted nuthatch. A volunteer group worked with me to maintain a trail on Thursday afternoon.
I ask you, reader, what is your interest? What brings you to the Blue Ridge Parkway? And, can I join in on the fun?
This week, two questions came in from visitors to the park that have a common theme: collections.
I have friends who let their children collect things from nature. Sometimes these collections include salamanders, frogs, moths and turtles. Usually the animals are released in a few days and in decent shape, but sometimes they are forgotten and subsequently starve or roast under the sun on their porch. How do I talk to them about this?
— Secret Liberator
Who among us did not collect lightening bugs as children? What a great joy it was to run in the dark, through the cool, moonlit air, grasping for the yellow orbs of light. I consider some of those experiences the best of my life, and what helped make me the person I am today.
However, I also had parents who taught me the importance of the golden rule, “One should treat others as she would like others to treat her.” I consider “others” to include salamanders, frogs, insects and turtles.
It sounds like you do, too.
The great thing about this situation is that you know your friend’s children enjoy the outdoors. I think that you should start with them, and try and keep the other adults out of it.
A conversation with your friends that starts with, “I think it’s terrible that you let your children kill harmless creatures,” could be interpreted as, “I think you are horrible parents.” Red zone. Stay away. Nothing good can come of this.
Instead, invite the “collector” kids to go hiking with you and your family. Teach them how to observe. Let them watch you get excited about just witnessing an act of nature, without having to touch it.
Explain to them the unique balances in nature. Also, share how diseases are spread through moving species from one place to another, and that many creatures are poisonous or venomous and can, possibly, hurt them if touched.
End the day with viewings of the movies “Fern Gully” and “Pocahontas,” and you’ve done your best.
I should also mention that the plants and animals of the Blue Ridge Parkway are protected by federal law, for the enjoyment of all people, present and future.
Where is a good place to pick berries on the Blue Ridge Parkway?
— Caught, Blue-Handed
There are great berry collecting sites at Rough Ridge, Cascades and Beacon Heights. The Cone Estate has its own raspberry garden. Farther south on the parkway, Graveyard Fields is known to be an excellent place for tasty blueberries.
You can pick up to a gallon a day. Of course, while on National Park Service land, you are asked to keep on the trails.
Please remember that many other creatures depend on the berries to survive the summer months. For example, black bears can eat green plants in the spring before their cellulose has hardened. By summer, those green plants are nearly indigestible for bears, and so they must turn to berries for sustenance.
You are not a bear. You have options. Think grocery store, garden, or farmer’s market.
There are also a handful of “pick-your-own” farms in the area. I think this would be a great way to show children where their food comes from, and the work that goes in to getting it.
If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (email@example.com) All of your questions will be answered. Two will be featured next week. See you on the trails.
Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.