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Rich Bard

Rich Bard photo courtesy of Rich BardRich Bard is a wildlife biologist who began his career as a zookeeper. Having spent most of his adult life moving around the country working with various wild animals, he settled near the coast of Maine in 2004. Amid the striking beauty of this remote region, he passes the time with his family, hiking, snowshoeing, gardening and watching the tide ebb and flow.

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Never Miss a Chance for an Ecological Lesson
Sunday, 07 October 2012 00:00  |  Written by Rich Bard | Blog Entry

Fall Leaves photo by Ctd 2005 “Look at that,” I say to seven-year-old Max as we linger in the back yard on an autumn afternoon. “Those two are both maple trees. That one’s already lost almost all of its leaves, but this one has barely started to change colors. Why do you suppose that is?”

“Can you push me on the swing now?” comes the non-sequitur reply. So much for the open-minded wonderment of youth. I never even got to my other point about why maple trees lose their leaves before the oaks even start to change colors.

I remember my father trying to point out the ways of nature when I was a boy and my response was probably very much like Max's. When I was old enough to really think about what Dad was trying to show me, I would think something like, “The leaves change color every year. It's fall, so the trees are losing their leaves. I don't even have to take my eyes off Ms. Pac Man to know that.”

It was the same every year when he'd make sure I went outside when the mercury dropped to -40ºF, just so I'd experience the extreme cold. Or that perfect day to go catch catfish every spring—“When the leaves on the apple trees are as big as a mouse's ear.” Every autumn the deer would return to feed on the apples that fell in the yard, and Dad would make sure we noticed. These were all highlights of his year. They were predictable “groan moments” and eye rollers for me. “Why is he so easily impressed?” I would wonder.

Why do we believe this pervasive myth that children are open to everything and are sponges for new experience? I was a picky eater as a kid, but can't think of anything I've tried and didn't like in the past decade (and it shows). I only liked pop music as a teenager, but now I'm open to well-made music of any genre. I used to think nature was messy and dirty, and that I'd only be happy leaving my rural hometown and heading for the city. Now I know that I can be happy anywhere, but I prefer the quiet surroundings of the country.

Children may not be as naturally inquisitive about certain subjects as we'd like to believe, but that doesn't absolve the adults in their lives from pointing out the million small miracles we experience all the time.

As an adult, I hate to miss a teachable moment about the natural forces that shape our world and it doesn't go unnoticed. While playing charades with my niece, she acted out a person by pointing wildly in all directions while saying, “Look at that. Look at that. Look at that.” I won't deny feeling proud and at least a little gratified when I guessed correctly that her subject was yours truly, Uncle Rich.

Maybe I wouldn't be constantly amazed by the changing seasons if my father hadn't bored me to tears showing me those very changes while I was growing up. As for Max, he is getting his fill of little notices that the world is constantly changing around him. The seasons, the weather, even the phases of the moon are all fair game for a little lesson.

I do try to restrain myself when it comes to the ebb and flow of the tide. It's difficult, though, because I never fail to be amazed at the way the shore looks so drastically different between high and low tide. But the tide changes four times a day and I know there is a limit to how much wonder I can force into Max and his sister. What can I say? I guess I'm easily impressed.

Additional resources:
Backyard Biodiversity: How to Set Up Your Own Nature Reserve
'Take Me to the Box of Bugs!'—On Children, Composting and the Future of the Planet
EcoHearth's Eco Parenting blog
EcoHearth's Kids, Family and Pets zine section

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Comments (2)add
Written by Kit , December 28, 2012
Very beautiful.
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Written by kristaf , November 09, 2009
Beautiful story, Rich! If Max doesn't appreciate your take just yet, we certainly do! (btw funny the characters in the box below spell out "infinite MAXWELL"!!)
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