Today I spent an entirely exhausting but wonderfully fulfilling day in the gardens. Michelle’s family came over to “Help Gammy”. Seven year old Bug learned to prune a small crab apple tree. Five year old Fairy showed her might as she hauled bags of mulch. And three year old Pixie impressed us all as she shoveled pea gravel into the wheelbarrow with “Othy”. (Othy… their name for Tim, as in Timothy… Tim Othy… Othy. Cute, right?) Anyway… At one point Fairy came over and asked, “What’s that plant called?” Over the winter some of the plant markers got shifted or the growing spring plants covered our painted rocks that bear their names. Together we went through the garden we were working on to make sure all the name rocks were visible and by the correct plant. By each plant, Fairy used her budding reading skills to try to decipher the names. There were lovely names like Foam Flower, Coral Bells, and Porcupine Grass. For the rest of the day, each time she passed a plant, she’d look at the rock and proudly say the plant’s name. It reminded of this blog I had written for One Generation to Another May 20, 2008. I hope you enjoy it!
Tim: (Getting into the car after popping into Kroger to pick up some milk.) Peggy said there are tornado warnings.
Me: (More perplexed by the name Peggy then the impeding doom, I rack my brain trying to figure out who Peggy is. Coming up blank…) Who the heck is Peggy?
Tim: The cashier.
Me: How do you know her?
Tim: I just told you she was the check out clerk.
Me: Do you know her from somewhere else?
Me: Then how do you know her name?
Tim: It was on her badge.
Me: Then why use her name like it means something to me?
Tim: Because it’s her name.
Me: You’re very odd.
This gives you some kind of understanding of the riveting conversions Tim and I have! Having said that…to me a name is personal…the use of one’s name implies intimacy. To Tim it simply conveys friendliness. Truth be told, people respond surprisingly well to him. I’m the kind of person whose dander flies with the first sign of confrontation. Tim becomes all smiles…and uses people’s names. Actually, this is a tried and true marketing strategy. Next time you get a telemarketing phone call notice how they utilize your name thus suggesting friendship and closeness. It’s much harder to turn down “Bob” when he keeps calling you “Kathy” than a nameless voice calling you ma’am or sir. (Unless, of course, your name isn’t Kathy!)
Anyway, names are powerful and the use of names does provide us with a sense of ownership, intimacy and responsibility. Right now I’m reading a very interesting book titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I’m only a quarter of the way into the book but being a true believer that the average American child does not spend nearly enough “exploratory” time outside, I found the phrase Nature-Deficit Disorder to be intriguing. The author shares a conversation with naturalist and educator Elaine Brooks. She believes that people are unlikely to value things they cannot name. “One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it.”
If we want our children to become intimately involved with their environment, the best way to do that is to “properly” introduce them to nature. Start in your backyard. Instead of talking about “the birds” use their names. (If you don’t know them get yourself a backyard bird book like Backyard Birds (Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Jonathan Latimer or Birds, Nests & Eggs (Take-Along Guides) by Mel Boring. Start a bird watching journal. What about the trees and plants in your yard? What insects populate your yard? Helping your children discover the diversity in their own yard and learning to identify many of them by name might be the single greatest thing you can do to help your child become ecologically responsible. Names lead to intimacy…intimacy leads to caring…caring leads to action.
The other day we were at The Metro Park. We are so lucky to have this 5,000 acre park just 4 miles from the house. We went to see the egrets nesting and after hiking down to the long expansion bridge on one of the lakes, we pulled out our binoculars and watched the beautiful birds. I was with my daughter and her children. Along with the egrets we saw blue herons, a nesting swan, a northern water snake, a family of snapping turtles sunning on a log, and scores of red winged blackbirds. I enjoyed listening to my 5 year old grandson talk about his surroundings. He kept asking for the name of everything he saw. He already knows most of the local birds by name but his thirst for information is infinite. While listening to him it was apparent that he felt a sense of intimacy with the creatures and plants around him…you might say he’s becoming one with nature. To him nature is not something foreign “out there”. It is something personal, that he is involved with, and knows by name!
Over the years we have often gone one step further and have actually give proper names to things. My daughter named the weeping cherry she gave me one Mother’s Day, Julie. The boys named the matching dogwoods Barkley and Bob. My daughter’s children name their squirrels. Now, I’m willing to bet the farm that they aren’t always identifying the same squirrel…but it doesn’t matter! What matters is they feel a connection to the animals in their backyard!
We take the time to get to know the names of a people we deal with regularly. We learn the name of streets we frequent. We remember the names of delicious dishes at favorite restaurants, and we can list by name the television shows we watch every week. Learning names makes is easier to talk about things accurately. It also suggests a level of involvement. So, the next time you’re in the great outdoors with your children, take the time to meet some new friends…friends you can call by name!