Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pleasures of a Wild Child

I wasn't a "normal" girl.  I loved frogs instead of dolls and golden-colored butterflies instead of pink ruffles.  As a matter of fact, I actively disliked dolls and abhorred anything in pink--for me, pink meant prissy, and that was the farthest thing from what I was.  I spent my summer days zipping around on my bike looking for adventure or trying to keep up with my older brother and the other boys and stuck my nose up at the neighbor girls carefully rolling a baby carriage down the sidewalk with their dollies inside.

But a kid can't be outside every day in Minnesota, where I lived until the age of 9--it's often too cold or too wet or too snowy--so books had a big role in my life.  I wasn't interested in made-up stories, unless they were about a horse, a dog, or a wolf and sounded "real."  For me, books meant a way to find out about the amazing world of nature.  After all, I wasn't in a position to head off to what is now called the rain forest but then was the "jungle," a much more evocative term, to pursue 25-foot long anacondas or bizarre frogs that carry their eggs on their backs, but I could read about them, thanks to great adventurers like Roy Chapman Andrews.

Perhaps my very most favorite and inspiring book was "Nature's Ways: How Nature Takes Care of its Own," by Roy Chapman Andrews himself.  Andrews was a well-known public figure at the time who travelled all over the world but was especially famous for his dinosaur discoveries in Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.  "Nature's Ways," however, was quite a different sort of book.
In a way, it was very modern in format, with each spread featuring an amazing example of how nature works, accompanied by lovely color art.  Unfortunately, my childhood books got lost along the many moves of myself and my parents, but I remember some of the most amazing stories in that book.  For example, Andrews described the archer fish (on the cover of the book), a creature with two parts to its eyes, a lower section adapted to seeing underwater, and an upper section that could see above water.  These fish lurk at the surface.  When an archer fish spots an insect close by, it shoots a blast of water right at it that wets the prey, causing it to fall into the water.  Gulp and it's gone!  What a great story!  Then there's the yucca moth and the yucca plant, perfectly adapted to one another.  The adult moth drinks nectar from the yucca blossoms, helping to pollinate them.  It then lays its eggs on the plant, and the caterpillars feed on the yucca.  What a beautiful synergy.

My love of such stories from nature has helped me in my writing as an adult.  I'm always on the lookout for the special "gee whiz" elements of a topic, knowing that there will always be kids like me out there, who can be blown away by nature's  adaptations.  Nature's wonders are all around us, not only in far away places, and when children can learn about the amazing life that surrounds them every day, they can be engaged in their own lives and will be motivated to read and to have fun learning.


Kelly Milner Halls said...

Dorothy, how I wish we'd lived on the same street growing up. To have a kindred like you would have been amazing. Still is.


Dorothy Patent said...

Thanks, Kelly! I agree, it would have been nice but i never noticed that I was the only girl in the bunch!