I am a nature documentary geek and I’ve subjected my family to my geekdom for years. Other families watch movies together, we watch documentaries. It all started with the release of the Planet Earth DVD set by the BBC in 2009. Then it was The Human Planet, also by the BBC, in 2011. We’d watch whatever we could get our hands on. Now there’s Netflix. Again, some people watch it for the movies or series, we watch it for the nature shows. Last night we were watching Life Story (yet another BBC production) and saw a segment on the veined octopus. Whoa.
I knew that octopuses were intelligent. But this segment took my admiration to a whole new level. These cephalopods use discarded shells and even coconut shells as protection! They even carry them around with them as they walk along the ocean floor. Scientists debate whether or not the octopuses are using the shells as tools, which requires brain power. Some think it’s just pure survival instinct in action. Perhaps. No matter, it’s still pretty stinkin’ cool. It gets even better…they use the coconut shells as transportation. They pull the two halves of a coconut shell around them and roll along the ocean floor!
As I walked home from work the other day, I heard a flock of geese honking. When they appeared overhead, I stopped. When they flew by, they were low enough that I heard their wings flapping. Have you ever heard the collective flap of a gaggle of geese? It’s pretty cool.
I think geese sometimes get a bad rap because they are loud and leave a lot of evidence behind when they’ve been somewhere. Yet they are really actually quite remarkable. For starters, they mate for life. They also migrate, a feat that is so often unappreciated. They are social creatures. But what I find truly incredible about these birds is their teamwork. They fly in a V for a reason – to help each other fly. The lead bird makes flying just a bit easier for the birds behind them. But most amazing of all is that the more experienced, older birds TAKE TURNS being the leader. I think most people could learn a thing or two by watching geese. And appreciating them.
Recently I’ve been trying to select education market projects that have something to do with nature, the environment, and environmental issues. One of the best of these was a project on biodiversity (Nomad Press, March 2019). I wasn’t even going to take on a project last spring, then that one landed in my inbox. I couldn’t say no. At every turn I was AMAZED by what my research uncovered. A lot of the cool things I found are in the book. But since the book needed to be less than a zillion pages, so many amazing organisms are not. One of those is the hermit crab. Not the ones that are in cages on the boardwalk at the beach. No, the ones living in the wild. They actually line up, BY SIZE, to trade shells. You can see this phenomenon in action on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141103-hermit-crab
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Einstein
I think that, like so many quotes, this one can be interpreted in many different ways. For me, it’s about slowing down to really see the natural world. It’s about looking closely. And it’s about coming to understand the vast complexities of our world. With that understanding we can appreciate nature much, much better. And going back to what I said last week, if we appreciate something, we care and will take care of it.
The day after Thanksgiving the government released the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Despite what some of our illustrious leaders say, the science is undeniable. Climate change is a real and present threat. The outlook is certainly grim.
It’s at that point that I find myself quoting Dr. Seuss. “Unless,” he wrote in The Lorax in 1971, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” And then, I want to yell, “I care!” I want to holler from the rooftops and tweet and retweet, and champion renewable energy and recycling and public transportation. I want everyone to know and understand what is going on. And I want everyone to care. Because there IS room for hope.
But how do I make a difference in this big, big world? I’m not a scientist or engineer or politician. I am one person, trying to improve my own very small corner of the world. And I’m raising kids who are aware of the problems our planet faces. I’m trying to teach them to take small steps and that a lot of steps together equals change. Yet it’s not enough. How can I do more? And then I think…writing. I already write books for kids. I love it. So why not narrow my focus to more books about nature and environmental issues and biodiversity? It’s actually been an idea that’s been percolating for a while: build a platform on environmental writing for kids.
Now is the time.