“Ruining a Patch of Nature”

The kids were playing outside today with neighborhood children here in Oxford, our most recent stop. All three of my children and a very sweet four year old neighbor boy (who, incidentally, has not yet gone off to school) began a game of making underground “houses” by digging wide holes into the ground, about 6 inches in diameter and an inch or two deep, one for each child. Their holes were in a rugged area on the edge of a large field near our apartment building where the grass is already patchy. They were imagining wonderful things, making plans for each step of the process, laughing, chasing bugs, getting dirty, all those wholesome heartwarming childhood things. I reclined in the sun and basked in their happiness.

Then, our seven-year-old neighbor Ruby, just back from public school (at 5pm), skidded up on her bike, tilted her head, and said with a pretty little English accent, “you children should stop that right now, you’re ruining a patch of nature.”

Her sass-itude ruffled my feathers, but her point, well, I considered it. After all, I’ve been fraternizing with liberal environmentalists since I left Alabama at the impressionable age of 18 to attend Princeton. Environmentalism is the religion of the godless. As long as Hollywood Hedonist respects the environment and pays big bucks to offset his carbon footprint, he is absolutely righteous and can even hold himself up as morally superior and look down on the rest of us. And also in the environmentalist camp we have Tree Hugger, who hates all things chemical and artificial including deodorant, actually probably worships leaves, yet wholeheartedly supports chemical abortions and couldn’t live without artificial and chemical contraceptives. That’s why I’m highly impatient with the environmentalist agenda. Public school is a great place to be indoctrinated by them. Poor Ruby.

However, as Christians, we are of course called to environmental stewardship—respecting and caring for God’s creation, but not worshiping it in itself. And it’s here for us to enjoy as well as to preserve for future generations. In Alabama as a child, I spent summers barefoot, dirty, breaking off tree branches and leaves to build forts, digging deep into the ground in search of water or China, plucking grass and flowers endlessly, even doing scandalous things like burning bugs by reflecting the sun through a magnifying glass. I can’t imagine my childhood apart from these encounters with nature, which were my joy and were so rich with imagination and exploration and exercise and good fun.

The times are changing since then—with both the good environmentalists and the cultish environmentalists hiding behind every tree, we’re constantly made aware that every single blade of grass and leaf is a treasure from Mother Earth. And that’s true to an extent. But political correctness aside, I desire to teach my children proper stewardship of God’s creation. So my question to you: was Ruby right? What limits do you place on your children’s freedom to enjoy and explore and dissect and experience (and even destroy) rugged nature, in order to preserve it? Do you talk much with your children about protecting the environment? How do you frame it?

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  • This is an interesting question. And, apparently a common experience (we have lived in the UK and have encountered similar attitudes…I am sure you can hear it at home in the US too). My first reaction is that they are doing no real harm. It always amuses me (actually “annoys” is more accurate) that humans seem to be always considered the “un-natural” factor. When a beaver builds a dam, it is nature. If a kid did the same thing to make a swimming hole, it is “ruining a patch of nature”. That being said, I try to keep my kids from destroying plants, especially spring flowers :), when 1. it isn't our yard, 2. it makes the plant ugly, or 3. I think they are just doing it to destroy. However, if the girls were picking leaves to put in a pot to make an imaginary stew, I don't sweat it. I might steer them to the heartier plants, though.

  • Kate

    Well, I have to be honest JM…that post ruffled my feathers probably as much as Ruby's comment ruffled yours. It's not the question itself which I think is valid (and Carol outlines rules that I roughly follow below) but the tone about the those who want to protect our planet (and to a lesser extent those who love public schools, but I imagine that's another issue).I would agree that Ruby is just a little too sassy, no right minded adult would agree with that…The BP oil spill is ruining a patch of nature, not your children digging…but probably not an argument worth having with a bossy 8 year old. And almost anyone I know who would call themselves an environmentalist would be THRILLED, THRILLED! that your children were actually outside and doing all those things you mentioned. If your children are not out in nature then they WILL NOT ever develop a respect and love of it, they will not consider it special and worth saving. You are teaching and talking to them about the environment by just letting them explore it. So kuddos to you on that. But that's a lot of harsh judgment you lay out there. Stereotyping in a way I am not comfortable with.Since I'm not Catholic, and not particularly religious but want to respect your faith and point of view I did a brief bit of research during naptime (the librarian in me cannot be quelled) and found this sitehttp://conservation.catholic.orgYou guys can let me know if it is way off base, but it seemed pretty darn interesting and perhaps a good place to start on a change of opinion on the environmental movement.

  • ODemkowicz

    I try to teach my children not to destroy anything in nature. So, taking bark off of trees I dont like, killing bugs I dont like ( I too burnt ants with a magnifying glass as a child!). I try to teach them that even though things in nature are not people, that they are created by God so we should take care fo them so we can enjoy them. That being said, digging holes, picking flowers, catching bugs and putting them in glass jars (even though a few might die!), fishing, playing with worms, etc. I dont really have a problem with. Exploring and discovering is different than destroying. Of course I suppose the problem is that there is a fine line between the two spheres. For me, intent has a lotto do with it. If they are pulling bark off the trees to simply remove bark, thats destroying. If they are removing bark to explore further the ant colony that lives beneath, meh, no big deal. I hope also to teach them to weigh their actions. Some actions might be all for the sake of exploring and learning BUT if the end result is such that a lot of destruction takes place, ven though that wasn't their intent, I would have them question whether or not their endeavor is worth it. Does that make sense? I like the word stewardship because it doesn't imply a “hands-off” attitude to nature, this sort of idea that we should leave the earth as if we had never been here. That's silly, We are here, for a reason, and part of that reason is to use the earth in the way it's intended, take care of it, and enjoy it at the same time.

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    I strongly believe that all kids need to experience nature, and that does mean digging in dirt, collecting bugs, planting seeds, etc. I think “sanitizing” nature all the time, (look, but don't touch) can be detrimental to a child's development. I think the context plays a big role in how our kids enjoy nature. In an urban setting, there are less green areas and public areas may be protected by rules, and I think it is important to teach these to your kids. For example, when we go to the local arboretum, the kids can't uproot plants and you are not allowed to remove butterflies or bugs from the property.I recently read Leonard Sax's book, Boys Adrift, which discusses the difference between learning about something and experiencing it. I can't remember the German terms he use, but he argues that part of the unmotivated boys problem can be traced back to “virtual learning” for example, dissecting a frog on a computer simulation versus in real life. The computer version doesn't seem real, so the point of doing it is somewhat lost on kids. I can relate in that flying in flight simulators is so very different than piloting your own plane…one seems like a game, the other is a life and death situation, done for a reason…to train to fly fighter jets and protect our country.Charlotte Mason strongly encouraged teachers in urban settings to school in the mornings and take their kids to nature in the afternoon. She also said that if a day in winter was unexpectedly pleasant, to be flexible and go outside then…obviously something that is not possible in the current NCLB school environment.Our eldest in very into collecting butterfly specimens at them moment and wants to be a lepdopterist and live in Paupa New Guinea when he grows up. He puts them in a butterfly cage and they either die naturally or we have also looked up what are the more humane ways to kill them. This may sound morbid, but I think it is respecting the animal that God made without stifling his curiosisty. We mount them and catalogue them. We look up what their host plants are and add them to our yard to attract more of the beauty of God's creation to surround us. We also have part of our yard devoted to being a “mud castle” though not everyone has this option. We also talk to our kids about recycling and composting and saving electricity and excessive consumption in the context of God's creation, of which we are called to be stewards. But I think the innate need for a child to explore a patch of grass and experience God's creation is more important that those 6 inches of grass. God did give humans dominion over the earth, and I think that oftentimes, in addition to a loving family, nature can be a child's first contact with a sense of the divine, of the infinite creator, of the reality of death and of beauty.

  • Kate

    Arrgh. Sorry that's what you get for posting during naptime. That site I haven't gone through yet…this was the article I wanted to post. Seemed interesting.http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story…You can check out the other link too but I haven't read it, so it may be complete bunk 🙂

  • rightsaidred

    It has always struck me as rather odd that most of the environmentalists in town are REALLY into cloth diapering (which I completely support), recycling (again, I support), composting (again, Love it!), but they are the first in line to pop their birth control pills. The birth control pills thing really gets to me because it is literally ruining our lakes and streams, the current water treatment facilities don't take out all that estrogen, so it winds up in the rivers, and the male fish are actually taking on female characteristics, yikes!!! Seriously, this is an environmental problem, but everyone in town looks at me like I'm crazy when I bring it up. I'm all for eating organic, buying local, reducing our carbon footprint, but let's just be honest about it and care about reducing that footprint in all areas! For some reason cloth diapering is a very politically correct way of caring about the environment, but controlling the number of children we have through natural means isn't? So for me, it's more the hypocrisy of it all that stinks. But I digress…Overall, I consider myself very pro-environment, and I even tried to go to some of the towns events that support the environment (earth day walk, etc.). Unfortunately I have never once been able to attend because every. single. event. has been held on a Sunday morning. Which gets back to JM's point about it being a form of religion, one that isn't very open to those of us that worship God on Sunday mornings…As for Ruby, I think she only has a point if your kids are digging on someone's private property. If not, then she's really missing the point, your kids aren't ruining anything, but learning to play and enjoy nature.

  • buildingcathedralstexasmommy

    Kate, I understand how your feathers were ruffled. I share some of JM's frustration with the hypocrisy of those who will not ingest pesticide laden fruit or drink milk from cows treated with hormones, yet extoll the virtues of artificial contraception or chemical abortion. Or those who value the life of a whale over that of a human. Red had a idea awhile ago for an NFP campaign called ,”Going Green with NFP”…an interesting idea!

  • Erin

    Just to further contradict the stereotypes, we have a few friends and one brother/sister in law couple who are pretty big tree huggers (vegetarians, natural (if any) deodorant, organic farmers), who also oppose artificial birth control for the reasons we're talking about here–its unnatural! But, the funny thing is, none of them have any particular religious compass. Initially we thought, oh, we'll have something in common with Joe and Jane Smith, b/c they do NFP like us! As it turns out our charts and thermometers and cloth diapers are about the only things we have in common. The value of living naturally is the only value in itself. There's nothing more– nothing greater to live for or to worship, and certainly no church on Sunday mornings. I'm not sure about the nature question, but I just wanted to relay that there are tree-hugging NFP'ers out there.

  • JM. Your post today was so vivid, I feel like I was next to you in that yard, and could hear your comments next to me like you were here with me. Made me miss you so much. Thanks for a great topic and for sparking my thoughts. All of creation is groaning with us waiting for Jesus and we better love every rock and tree, because we know they would cry out in praise to Jesus if we don't! Keep up your great work.

  • JurisMater

    Great suggestions and principles here, friends. Thanks. The context really does have a lot to do with it–where (public or private property, urban or rural); what (picking leaves and grass for a rain puddle soup versus snapping live saplings in half to play Superman); why (creation and exploration versus destruction). And these principles you suggested accord right along with the stewardship view of creation, and each particular situation will be a matter of discernment, along with the kids, about how to care for God's creation. Queen B, great reminder about creation groaning and waiting for Jesus and singing his praise, just as we do… personifying nature in THIS way (and not the tortured Mother Earth stuff) helps me to love and respect creation in a properly-ordered way.Kate, thanks for your honesty. Since Day 1, you have been an incredibly fair, reasonable and thoughtful commenter (and friend), and I consider your reactions a thermometer to gauge when I've crossed the line. I started sweating when I read your comment : ) I know the stereotypes are definite stereotypes, but they're stereotypes that point out some of the inconsistencies and foolishness that make that brand of dogmatic environmentalism hard to swallow. But your points are great: most genuine environmentalists would love to see children dirty and digging and happy in nature.As for the article you linked to (the second one–the one you liked better), I think I'm being accurate when I say the the philosophical meat of it was this:”Sister Elizabeth Johnson writes that there are two ways to approach the ecological crisis in good faith: the stewardship model, which envisions the Earth in the service of humans; and the kinship model, which envisions humans in the service of the Earth.”In this article, they're quoting nuns who follow the “kinship” model and are as a result calling for a “new cosmology” and a “religious awakening” toward the environment, and that's off the deep end. Plants are not our kin. But the stewardship model is what we're all about. And I can ALWAYS improve my attitude and practice of stewardship of creation, and I genuinely appreciate the reminders from you Kate, and from the other Builders (all of whom are super environmentally conscious) and readers, to take the time and effort to care for the earth.

  • rightsaidred

    JM, Loved your summary of that article!

  • Bethany

    On my facebook page, I have a “flair” button that reads Go Organic, use NFP!hehehe