The breeze has turned brisk, the weather uncharacteristically balmy for this time of year. So on a bright morning when I’ve been rewarded with two of my granddaughters, I order them out of pajamas and into sneakers and T-shirts.
“Put on your good eyes,” I tell them.
A ’hunting we are going. For bugs. For creepy crawlies. For creatures that slither and slide under logs and over half-opened windows.
They’re reluctant at first. What if a beetle flies into their cupped hands? What if a worm settles inside a shoe? What if the toad that pooped on the pool patio the other night chases them into a corner? Eeew!
The possibilities for adventure are endless and wonderful. The challenge, however, is for them to recognize this.
We begin at what I call the cricket bush, a transplanted poinsettia that hosted a swarm of the jumpers weeks earlier. But that Saturday the leaves, scalloped and deep green, remain empty of pests no matter how we turn them.
We trudge to the bromeliads. There among the folds of prickly cardboard leaves, I’ve spotted snails burrowing in for a day of R&R. At dusk, they like to glide out, a slow-moving parade of slime and shells.
But that day I can’t find a one and the girls whine in two-part harmony. My granddaughters, after all, are products of the electronic age. The 2-year-old swipes at my smart phone as if she learned to do so in the womb and the 5-year-old convinced me to download, against my better judgment, a princess app that opens up to very loud, very tinkly music. They are at home in a world of instant amusement. I, on the other hand, think entertainment should involve a little thought, a bit of toil.
“Help me, why don’t you?” I ask them.
They make a face but try.
Then just as we’re about to give up, I spy a teeny snail in its damp hideaway. With practiced expertise, I pluck it into our Uncle Milton Bug Jug. From there we conquer the yard. I catch a big lizard and a little one. I dig up a couple of worms. I scoop up a line of ants. I corner a grasshopper.
And when we’re done, they stare into the plastic container in absolute awe. I love it.
One of my pet peeves is that kids don’t spend enough time outdoors, preferring to sit in front of the TV or video game instead. When they do step outside, their time is so regulated by organized activities that they hardly notice the natural world around them.
This is not a new issue. When my own children were young, I interviewed a man who wrote a fascinating book about what he labeled as nature-deficit disorder. Richard Louv linked the lack of outdoor exposure to disturbing childhood trends, things like obesity and attention deficit disorder. He pointed out that, in two decades, the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a fraction of what it once was. Crime, fear of strangers, lack of time, the proliferation of computers, you-name-it, have surely contributed to shrink it even further.
Yet the virtual is a poor imitation of the real. To satisfy a child’s curiosity, we need authentic eew and yuck, bug hunting and worm digging, the scent of damp earth and the feel of grass underfoot. The reverence and wonder I saw in those girls’ eyes for a few precious minutes.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.