Thursday, August 14, 2008

Getting dirty.

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.”

“It’s dirty!”

“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.”


Cicero Sings said...

Too much! Did this really happen? No wonder there is no care for and of the environment in spite of all the hype!

Nancy J. Bond said...

Very interesting stories!

Hugh said...

Yes, CS, this happened, although it isn't a verbatim recreation. I kept a notebook of some of the stranger/more amusing/more frustrating things that happened a decade ago when I spent a year as an interpreter. And of the "The Interpreter" stories, this one is perhaps the truest -- heaven help us.

Thanks, Nancy.

Emily said...

Wow. Just wow.

Laura said...

Sigh. Thats sad words comming from a grade two kid.

I am happy to be one of many on my street who take care, create, plot and enjoy their own gardens. Many a day the streets around mine are filled with Jim's mowing and such companies keeping up the neighborhood's yards. While I understand not everyone has the time or patience to be a gardener, everyone needs to get their hands dirty once in a while.

Then again Im a gloves free kind of girl!

Anne said...

Oh dear. Hopefully this is not a nationwide neurosis. On the bright side, the kids who never eat or touch dirt won't develop normal resistance to germs and won't be sturdy enough to pass on their wimp genes.

Elizabeth (Beth) Westmark said...

My husband & I live in a hundred-acre wood of longleaf pine, hardwood & wildflowers (paradise) in the panhandle of Florida, near Pensacola. Grandchildren have come to love it, but their first reactions were disinterest and fear. One asked me: "Did YOU want to move to the Wilderness or was it GRANDDAD'S idea?" (accusing tone). They were sure there were bears. They were disgusted by frogs. Bit by bit, they learned to chunk rocks in the stream, dig for doodle bugs, find fascination in the tiniest flower and take flashlight walks to the gate after dark. I like to think they will be less neurotic adults as a result. . .

Sally said...

I'm with Anne-- how else are they going to develop immune systems? No wonder they're allergic to everything. Natural.

This is a pretty scary post!

Garden Lily said...

One of my favourite cartoons is the scene of a boy and his dad walking the forest. The boy, with wide eyes, asking his dad "What is this place? It smells like Home Depot."

Hugh said...

Garden Lily, Thanks, I laughed out loud at that.

Moonstone Gardens said...

This is so sad. It breaks my heart (and a little of my spirit).

Redgannet said...

It's a losing battle, but keep fighting!