I grew up in rural Wisconsin, near the town of Spring Green in the Wisconsin River Valley, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Frank Lloyd Wright built his famous house Taliesin there, as well as his communal architecture school, and Frank knew his aesthetics. Growing up I mostly took it for granted, as any kid will do, but it was only after I had done some traveling many years later that I understood what an unusual place it was. In many ways, I miss living in the country still, even though (with a brief exception) it’s been more than 30 years since my home was miles from the nearest sidewalk. Many times I have grieved the fact that my kids are growing up in the city.
The thing is, though, a lot of what I wish they could have had growing up they actually already do: constant contact with an ever-changing ecosystem and a wide variety of living things right outside their front door. My older son Thomas, for instance, has been a watcher and caretaker of garden snails since he was a preschooler, and he knows all kinds of things about them. Both kids have experienced the delights of finding hidden critters since they were very small, and almost every time we go out I hear: “Let’s look under rocks!”
Rocks. Hi, rocks. You were here a long time before we were, and you’ll be here for a long time after we’re gone. My yard (and everyone else’s around here) is filled with rocks, the good old New England kind people made all those stone walls out of a couple of centuries ago. I have spent years digging in my soil and, even in my little yard, have pulled out hundreds of them. Now they line the flower gardens, and when you lift the big ones underneath are centipedes, millipedes, pill bugs, pill bug eating spiders, other spiders, worms, black beetles of many varieties, ants, salamanders, little brown snakes — all kinds of things, zooming away in the sudden light. Endless entertainment and fascination for the smaller people; I’ve never known a kid who did not want to look.