My children and I were walking up to the Lively House recently one morning when we noticed a large hawk land at the top of a nearby oak tree. My son excitedly pointed it out to his bird-loving friend. Soon, a large group of kindergarten through second graders were all standing together on the playground watching this bird as he slowly consumed the rather large unidentified animal dangling from his beak. The kids were engaged by this seemingly simple predator-prey relationship and their enthusiasm was contagious as the teachers and parents were soon watching and snapping pictures as well.
One of the things that amazed me as a young mother was how observative my children were at such an early age. I remember going for walks around our neighborhood with my daughter, Mia, when she was a toddler and she would notice and pick up rocks, pieces of old tiles from the field that once was home to a church that succumbed to fire, and of course, flowers. Our sweet neighbor even gifted her a small heirloom jewelry box that she could use to keep her “treasures”. Within no time, Mia knew the names of all the flowers that grew in our neighborhood and would be able to pick them out in other places, well before I noticed them. To this day, she is far better than me at identifying different plant and insect species. Our nature walk observations have not only taught us the names of different species, it has also made us more aware of different relationships in nature. For example, every spring, we would notice a particular type of black and red bug that practically covered the sidewalk in a certain spot down the street from our house. It was an insect I had never seen before. Several seasons of us seeing these bugs went by, when one day, Mia noticed that some of them seemed to be eating the fallen seeds of the Chinese Flame Tree that grew overhead. So, I googled “Chinese Flame Tree insect” and sure enough, it turned out to be a Jadera bug which lives off of these particular seeds and is actually beneficial as it helps to prevent too many seeds from germinating and choking out lawns.
We can learn a lot from simply observing. Actually, observation is one of the key disciplines of science. Think about some of the early naturalists and biologists. John James Audubon, the famous ornithologist was self-trained, as was Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who is considered the father of microscopy. These laymen did not have textbooks to learn facts from, they used their observation skills to develop hypotheses, facts, and the various theories that we learn about in school today. In our Biology class, we are currently reading “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. In this book, written as a series of month-by-month essays over a year’s time, Leopold, a self-proclaimed lover of wild things, describes his observations and reflections of nature from his rural farm in Wisconsin. Here is an excerpt from his January essay, in which he follows a newly formed skunk track through the woods:
“The skunk track enters the woods, and crosses a glade where the rabbits have packed down the snow with their tracks, and mottled it with pinkish urinations. Newly exposed oak seedlings have paid for the thaw with their newly barked stems. Tufts of rabbit-hair bespeak the year’s first battles among the amorous bucks. Further on I find a bloody spot, encircled by a wide-sweeping arc of owl’s wings. To this rabbit the thaw brought freedom from want, but also a reckless abandonment of fear. The owl has reminded him that thoughts of spring are not a substitute for caution.”
Look again at what Leopold actually saw. He did not see a skunk or a rabbit but he was able to use his detailed observations to draw logical conclusions that these animals were recently present. Also, pay attention to the multiple relationships between the different species as well as between the species and their physical surroundings. We could dig more into these relationships scientifically by looking at, for example, how the rabbit population affects new oak growth. We could also research some questions: What would happen to a particular ecosystem if, say, all of the rabbits disappeared?
What we begin to conclude from making detailed scientific observations is that God made things perfectly. There is an order and balance to everything. We, as adults, sometimes start to lose our natural ability to observe as we grow older. I challenge you this week to spend some quiet time in nature and simply observe what God is showing you. Be like the Lively House children and marvel at God’s creations.