Our three sons are young—eleven, nine, and two—but when it comes to nurturing a connection to nature, I don’t think you can start too young. There are many ways to do this, I think. The final chapter of Man Killed by Pheasant describes an afternoon we spent as a family on a small Iowa prairie, identifying wildflowers and telling the stories of our immigrant ancestors, in the hopes that our children will see their lives as being intimately entwined with place. We’ve also taken extended family trips to natural areas, but that’s not always possible given limited time and resources. So, most of our efforts are concentrated on the daily, often unexpected, but still informative encounters with nature occurring closer to home—in the backyard, with pets, in the garden. I write about a number of these small encounters in this memoir, in the lives of my children and in my own childhood. I think children can teach adults a thing or two about intimacy with nature, as well, and that has certainly been the case for me. They’re more willing than most adults to explore the world with their senses and to openly marvel at what they find there. They’re also more willing to defend the defenseless—to help the injured bird, to mourn the fallen tree, to pick up the stray can or candy wrapper. They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. I think part of my job as a parent is to be a good steward of my child’s sense of kinship with the natural world, to nurture it and learn from it myself. I don’t know if it will make a difference in their lives or in the life of this planet—I certainly hope it does—but I already know it has made a positive difference in my own.
Excerpt from "On Kalsow Prairie (A Postlude)" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships
When viewed from the road, Kalsow Prairie is nearly invisible against the taller corn of the surrounding fields. If not for the wooden sign, we might have missed it entirely. At 160 acres, Kalsow is what is commonly called a postage-stamp prairie, one of the last scattered vestiges of native tallgrass. I've always been intrigued by that metaphor, the idea that such places convey messages across space and time, which is true in a way. To those trying to restore prairie on cultivated or otherwise disturbed ground, these postage stamps are the guardians of heritage, the deliverers of seed and ancient knowledge. If they disappear, as many do, then it may not be possible for the land to go home again. "They are the last lingering scraps of the old time," John Madson wrote in Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie, "fragments of original wealth and beauty, cloaked with plants that you may never have seen before and may never see again." He was referring specifically to Kalsow Prairie, which is only a few miles west of Fort Dodge, though I don't remember hearing about it while living there. Like other treasures, I had no idea it was so close to home.
John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships