Last spring, we hosted a family camping trip to Mojave National Preserve with our family nature club,
Family Adventures in Nature. Three families came, which we thought was a pretty
good turnout since the trip required a five-hour drive from San Diego. One
family we’d never met before brought two daughters, 7 and nearly 4. The
seven-year-old’s name was Kate. The kids seemed to hit it off right away. We
all did, really. Being the mom and teacher that I am, I found myself spending
quite a bit of time with the kids, trying to tap into and observe their
"nature" behavior. What an experience!
On Friday night when everyone arrived, we excitedly told them about a scorpion we had found earlier
that day, which we had saved in a bug jar. Kate ran to her mom, scared and
crying. Saturday morning at breakfast, Kate sat at the picnic table with her
feet up, scared of “critters” on the ground. I sat beside her and we talked
about the scorpion and how we had found it. I shared with her one of my
favorite tidbits about nature that helps calm many fears of animals: Animals
are more afraid of us than we are of them. Kate’s jaw literally dropped when
she heard me. “Really?” she asked.
She relaxed perceptibly when I smiled and said, “Yeah, really.”
Soon Kate slid right up beside me, with her feet dangling toward that “scary” desert ground. Her little
sister and all the other kids continued playing in the dirt off in the
distance. She asked about snakes and holes and rocks and spiders. I listened
and responded to her questions with honesty and with questions of my own. And I
shared one of my most important “rules” in adventuring: Don’t put your hands or
feet anywhere you can’t see. Not in holes or under rocks or in between rocks or
anywhere you can’t see. And keep your
eyes and ears open, too. Kate seemed to relax a little more as she repeated
what I had just shared.
Later in the morning, all three families went for a hiking adventure. By now, everyone had seen the
scorpion (yes, even Kate) and watched him scurry down another burrow when we
set him free. We caught several darkling beetles and a couple of grasshoppers
that we had never seen before. The kids were practically tripping over one
another to view the “treasures” in the bug jar under the magnifying glass. At
first, Kate held back at the fringes, but soon she began to comment on how
“cool” the beetles were and was right down with me on the ground to capture the
moment in a picture.
At one point on our adventure, Kate shouted out that she had found some scat (another of our topics
of conversation) and wanted to know if I knew what it was from. This happened
many, many times with the kids as our adventure went on. I guess poop is a really natural way
kids connect with nature! We were soon talking about scat and who made it and
when they might have pooped there. And we compared many poops along the way.
Before long, Kate was asking if she could see my field guide on “scat and
tracks,” At lunch, she looked through several guides and any time she saw me
looking in one of my guides, she wanted to know what I was trying to find.
Personally, I’m more excited by the “Mojave wildflowers” guide than the scat
guide. But not Kate. She was
reading it with another 7-year-old girl around the campfire Saturday night.
Our camping trip wrapped up nicely, and on the drive home we stopped at the Kelso Visitor Center so my son
Owen could turn in his booklet and become a “Junior Ranger” of Mojave National
Preserve. Just as we were walking into the bookstore, we ran into Kate and her
family picking up some mementoes of the trip. Kate emerged holding—I could
hardly believe it—her very own copy of the scat and tracks guide! She held it
proudly in her hands, a big smile on her face.
I'm not sure who got more out of that whole experience. Me or Kate.