In his essay "Boy Culture," E. Anthony Rotundo cites examples of 19th-century boys tormenting woodchucks and maiming unoffending insects. Even urban boys would return to their city homes with trophies stuffed and mounted. Such activities, Rotundo claims, grew out of boy culture's emphasis on mastery of the physical world. For the sake of their parents and neighbors, one hopes that urban boys also mastered the art of taxidermy on the first try. This boyish need to dominate nature did not end with the 19th century. In the early 1980s, I know for a fact that at least one boy in Chicago's suburbs, solely out of high-minded scientific curiosity, mind you, hit lightning bugs out of the air with a baseball bat and watched them light-up like meteorites as they fell to the ground.
Given the current state of the environment, beset on all sides by the evidence of our mastery, one wonders if engaging the natural world in a way that reflects its inherent value might lead the next generation of boys and girls to make better environmental policy as men and women than we have. The Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid, Florida, runs a day camp that puts the first half of this premise into practice. "Scrub Ecology," Archbold Station's annual summer day camp, brings seven- to twelve-year-olds into contact with Florida's endangered scrub ecosystem over four, five-day sessions. The children begin each day by examining what they have caught in their live traps, and releasing their captives unharmed. They hike to a seasonal pond and wade in, learning about the presence and value of organisms barely visible to the naked eye. At the end of the week, campers take a night hike, calling for owls, and hunting for spiders by shining flashlights on their eyes. What boy or girl wouldn't have his curiosity about the natural world at once satisfied and piqued by such an experience? And isn't an owl's response to a child's call demonstrable evidence of that child's mastery over nature? Amazingly, all this can be accomplished without torturing a single woodchuck. Who'd have thought that possible? Having participated in programs like this one, the next generation of voters and policy makers might see nature as more than an asset waiting to be privatized and liquidated. At Archbold Station, that change in perspective begins when children learn that the word "scrub," which in our everyday language implies something useless, can also represent an ecosystem well worth preserving.
Copyright 2006© Dave Reidy
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Thursday, 25-May-2006 13:09:18 EDT