The interpreter was leading a class of Grade 2s and their tag-along parents into the woods. Judging from the makes of the vehicles that had arrived en masse at the park, this was a group from an affluent community. In the interpreter’s backpack were fine-meshed nets, drop cloths and bug jars. Today was to be an invertebrate program, which would involve the flipping of logs, raking of leaf-litter and shaking of shrubs to discover what tiny creatures lived in the forest.
He crouched to spread a metre-square white cloth beneath a salmonberry bush. “Now watch this,” he said. He shook the bush for five seconds. When he stopped, the drop cloth was crawling with dozens of tiny spiders, a few small, green caterpillars and several minuscule, twisting, glistening nematodes.
"Quick, someone hand me a bug jar." He reached back, expecting one of the little plastic jars to be plunked into his open palm. But nothing happened. He turned around. The children were either struggling to pull on latex gloves, or were waiting to receive a pair from one of three mothers circulating among them, handing them out.
“No-no,” said the interpreter. “There’s no need to wear gloves! You should be touching things with your hands.” He reached and shook the bush again. “Touch it.” He held out a branch to the nearest child, who was not yet gloved.
The child made a frightened noise and ran to one of the glove-mothers.
“What are you so afraid of? It’s just….nature.” He scooped up a handful of leaf litter, and then let it fall through his fingers. “See? Dirt won’t hurt you.”
“Of course it’s dirty.”
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“North Van,” said several, as the glove-mothers kept on gloving.
“Isn't there dirt in North Van?”
“No,” they said.
"I bet there is."
"No," said a girl. "We have a clean neighbourhood."
“Don’t you even have gardens?”
“We have many gardens,” said one of the mothers.
“Don’t you plant bulbs, pull weeds, prune the bushes? Don’t you ever touch anything?”
“We have gardeners,” said a boy. “They touch our dirt for us.”
“Can we go out?” asked another.
“Uh, we are out,” said the interpreter.
“No, I mean out of the forest.”