We’re soon to move from a neighborhood filled with little boys. The amount of muddy laundry, scraped knees, and peanut butter sandwiches this motley crew represents is only paled by their cumulative mischief. My boys have enjoyed playtime with gluttonous glee.
It was beautiful summer day when I heard a handful of kindergarten age boys playing on the “island” in the middle of our cul du sac. There are several mature trees on that spot of green and they have fun running around them, climbing them, and hurting them. On this particular day, their chosen torture was stripping every leaf from every branch they could reach. I watched for a while from the window, grimacing and wondering where their mothers were. Those trees are living things, I thought, don’t those boys know better? I stepped outside just to watch and make it known that I was watching. I hadn’t said a word when one of the boys shouted to me,
“We’re making a pile of leaves to jump in!”
“Oh!” I replied, “I thought we jumped in dead leaves…but those leaves are still alive!”
“Well, I don’t care!” one replied. I cringed again.
The next week I caught the same boys bending the tender young branches of a newly planted crape myrtle into a “catapult.”
I was sad, surprised, and a little peeved, but on further reflection I concluded that I had no right to be.
The truth is that many boys today don’t know that trees are alive and don’t know they should respect things that breathe. They’ve never been taught this, especially not at home. The extent of their education about nature at home is experimentation with creatures (magnifying glass and ants, anyone?) And often the behavior is simply ignored or not even witnessed by parents. Most children in our neighborhood, mine excluded, play without adult supervision. I’ve watched many chase cats, throw rocks at squirrels, taunt dogs, and destroy trees. If parents were there, would this happen?
I don’t consider myself a “tree hugger,” in the sense that my conservative parents meant when they talked about those “tree hugging hippies,” but I do believe in being a good steward of the world in which we are privileged to care for. I want my sons to climb trees, play with pruned sticks and branches, gather dead leaves to jump in, collect pine cones and needles, and do all the things that little boys like to do with trees and their parts. But I hope to teach them that everything that lives deserves to be treated with respect, no matter how small, how broken, or how defenseless.
Stewardship and dominion go together. Respect and enjoyment, too. A young boy who doesn’t learn how to both respect and steward nature, will never be able to truly enjoy or master it. I hope to be one of many parents of my generation who engage with our sons to explore nature, respect it, and learn to love it.