Flipping through some of my files earlier this month, I came across a piece I wrote for a newspaper almost 12 years ago. The following letter appeared on the Opinion page of the December 24, 2005 edition of The Sun Chronicle (Attleboro, MA):
Discover the mysteries just outside your door
To the editor:
After graduating from college last year, I couldn't tell you the difference between a white or red oak. I had no idea what birds lived near my home, aside from the "seagulls" and "pigeons" (which I now know as ring-billed gulls and rocks doves). And I didn't know there were wild turkeys and coyotes living nearby.
In those days I considered myself an environmentalist. I knew about toxins and teratogens. I knew that "recycled" computers were often dumped on Asian countries where they poisoned the land and people.
I knew about (and lobbied to help address) the realities of environmental racism in poor neighborhoods.
Yet, my knowledge was hardly complete.
I can't speak for your schooling experience, but mine was lacking in the local. It's taken me a year to learn some of the most basic knowledge about the non-human communities around me -- knowledge that should be (and not long ago was) common sense.
Now I can identify most native trees, I can recognize a dozen birds by their song alone, and I pay attention to the tracks and signs left by elusive animals.
Since graduating, I find studying nature to be my most meaningful pastime. Every day I notice something different, uncover a new mystery in my backyard.
Flipping through field guides (or, better yet, spending time with a naturalist) and walking in a forest or along a stream should be part of every child's upbringing.
If we desire to live responsibly on the earth, we must start by knowing and appreciating the little part we can see.
Parents especially must provide these opportunities for their children, for the generations to come.
Joshua M. Fecteau