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The following guest essay was written by Laura Landon whose love of nature was nurtured and encouraged by her parents in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. After surviving those long winters and wicked blackflies, she headed west as a wildlife biologist. Laura currently volunteers as the stewardship volunteer coordinator for The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky, and strives to be an admirable role model, as her parents were for her, for her 5-year old twins.

It was our second float down the Green River – a beautiful Kentucky river with one of the most diverse assemblages of fish and freshwater mussels in the United States (more than 150 fish species and 70 mussel species have been found in the river). The kids, our 5-year-old twins Cody and Elizabeth, were anxious to get out of the canoe; they knew that up ahead we would pull over in an eddy for lunch and then let them explore and play in the water. Our competitive children argued over who would catch the biggest crawdad.

As it turned out, neither won that honor – our friend paddling in the red kayak was the winner when she snagged a 10” endemic bottlebrush crawfish. The kids scrambled to hold the big guy and marveled at his claws and brilliant colors.

As we floated further downstream, the fall leaves floated down into the water and the afternoon sun sparkled (“Like pixie dust, Mommy!”) as it filtered through the trees. We saw three white-tailed deer bucks prance across the river, turtles basking on logs and a great blue heron flushed ahead of us and then, to Elizabeth’s delight, flew back upstream and right over our heads.

It was a beautiful afternoon, the kind that I deeply etch into my memory, the kind of day that is my true Mothers’ Day.

Months later, on a gray late winter morning when we were longing to be outside, dripping in sunscreen, and playing in shorts, I asked Elizabeth about our last float down the Green River.  Here is what she had to say… 

What amazes me is how much my kids remember and learn from experiences like our float down the Green River. Elizabeth’s definition of extinction of an endemic species like the bottlebrush crawfish is impressive – especially coming from a 5-year-old.

I also asked Elizabeth what she would tell other kids and parents about getting out into nature. Here are some of her suggestions:

  1. “You have to get dirty sometimes.” (We regularly put on our gloves and grab garbage bags to clean up plastic bottles, plastic bags, and other junk from storm water runoff that ends up along the banks of our backyard creek. We also help to plant trees during our local Reforest the Bluegrass events.)
  2. “Don’t be like Cody.” (Her twin brother, who, at the age of 3, ate two caterpillar larvae and threatens daily to eat some kind of insect. And who, at the age of 4, picked up and was bitten by a black widow spider. A trip to the emergency room and very painful, but he was fine.)
  3. “It feels good to save nature.” (She and Cody have saved their birthday money and scrounge for loose change everywhere – mostly Daddy’s pockets – and to date have given an entire box full of change to a local nature preserve.)
  4. “Plant a garden.” (We recently put in a small 3’x 8’garden of carrots, lettuce, radishes, beans, and peas. It’s small but a start. Planting your own backyard garden reduces your environmental impact, and can provide habitat for native butterflies, bees and birds.)
  5. “Listen to the Lorax.” (By Dr. Seuss. The Lorax speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.)
I realize that all of our afternoons of exploring in our backyard and local nature preserves were not only pleasurable but a true investment. My kids love to be outside. They love to explore. They understand the importance of clean water and air, and protecting important places. As parents, my husband and I have made an extra effort to get them outside and because of this, they are true conservationists. And that’s the best Mothers’ Day gift I could ever receive.

This post is reprinted with permission by Cool Green Science Blog.

My kind of Mother's Day
Not everyone wants to celebrate with brunch and flowers. See why Laura Landon's perfect Mother's Day involved a canoe and crawdads ... and happened last fall.