We get mail from almost every conservation group in the country. I often question the efficiency of these mailings, but that could be the subject of a whole other post. Today we got a map of the country from the Sierra Club. I’ve been meaning to take a look at potential routes across the country for our upcoming road trip. Luckily, this one had all of the major highways and cities labeled. I eagerly called Pearl in to take a look with me. She quickly become bored as I verbally weighed the options of spending the night in Albuquerque versus Santa Fe. She wanted to see the map on the other side with pictures of beautiful endangered animals in their native regions. She started asking questions, the likes of which I can’t fully remember because I was honestly thinking about skiing in Colorado. All of a sudden I heard myself respond that “they” were worried about these animals. Well, really I heard her ask, “Why are they worried about the polar bear?” And there it was, what for me is a really big topic.
Before working with young children and having my own, I thought all knowledge to be good knowlegde. I always wanted to learn as much as possible, especially about the natural world. As I switched gears from being an environmental educator for high school and college kids to working with young children, I realized that some things are better left unsaid. Young kids need the warm and fuzzy. They need to feel safe and good about the world. They need reassurance that bad guys don’t win. Sadly, today’s environmental issues, such as hyper-rapid climate change, food security, and wildlife habitat loss, don’t really fit that bill.
With my kids, I try to foster an intimate relationship with the natural world. We spend time outside every day. We find beauty in the swirling clouds, the caw of the crow, the sharp scent of rubbed sage, the softness of moss, a newly germinated pea plant emerging from the soil, and the sweet taste of a perfectly ripened strawberry. Our list for all things beautiful in nature is infintite. At their young age, I do not burden them with the knowledge that our climate is changing at such an accelerated rate that habitat loss is inevitable and the polar bear is likely doomed. Where is the beauty in that? Their lives are long. There will be lots of time for them to worry, ponder, and hopefully find solutions for these harsh realities. So, I was a little shocked to be on the edge of such a big conversation. I sat down and took a deep breath and remembered that keeping it simple works best, always.
“They are worried that there are not as many polar bears as there used to be,” I say. “They want people to help the polar bears.” She proceeded to ask how people can help polar bears. “By riding bikes,” I tell her. She giggled and giggled and giggled some more. Finally she calmed down enough to ask about ways of helping the other animals on the poster- keeping trees by streams for the salmon, buying food from local farmers to help the whooping crane, taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store for the Kirtland’s Warbler, and keeping hotels off the beach for the Hawaiian Monk Seal. She’d heard enough. She walked away giggling to herself that she could help polar bears by riding her bike. It seemed for her silly, fun, exciting, and BEAUTIFUL.