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Observation And Love Of Nature

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE phrase "love of nature" has become of late somewhat of a catchword, implying great poetic enthusiasm for birds and flowers, and a special fondness for stories in which animals figure in a somewhat theatrical way. But this emotional condition is not essential to a love of nature, and should not deter any mother from making nature-lovers of her children and herself.

There is no mystery about it. The words simply mean to enjoy acquaintance with natural things as well as with artificial ones. It is, for instance, a serene summer day, and as you sit at your window your view spans a valley with fields and a winding road, carried over an invisible stream by a bridge which tells you where it flows. Some woods lie at the left, and beyond them and the valley rises a gentle hillside dotted with farms, just now dappled with the moving shadows of clouds. Do you see these things and forget the illustrated magazine in your lap? Then you are a nature-lover. Do you call your little one to your knee and lead him to look at this beauty too? That is the way to make him a nature-lover. He will delight in the charm of the view, never fear, when once his attention is tact-fully called to it; but he will take a step into a new world if you lead him a little further. Ask him if he notices the different tints in the squares and patches of the farm-fields on the hillsides. Some are richly green, some of paler tint, some a glowing yellow. What is the yellow? Ripe grain. The grain is the seed of the wheat plants. When it has become full-sized and hard, the plant's work is done and the green color, which indicates that it is growing, disappears. Ask him to bring you one of the tufts of dry grass from the lawn, and show him its seeds and the similarly brownish hue of the stems. Wheat or oats are only larger grasses. Tell him how these seeds stay in their tiny husks even after the snow comes, so that the sparrows in the fall and the snow-birds in winter find plenty of food.

Let him watch the canary daintily picking the seeds from its cup and cracking them in its beak. Notice how strong that beak is, and its wedge-like form; then ask him to tell you to-morrow how many wild birds he has seen with similar beaks. Perhaps he will say only one; but he will keep his eyes open and presently he will find that many birds have beaks of other shapes -some like chisels, others as slender and sharp as awls, others like flat nippers, and so on. Explain to the child that each shape means a separate purpose, and ask him to see if he cannot find out this purpose in each case, as he watches the birds seeking their food. Don't let him guess at anything, or rest content until he is sure of each fact; and don't tell him more than is necessary to save him from going wrong. If, however, you can place good books before him, do so.

All this is very simple and quite within the reach of the average mother or father; and by continuing it, as knowledge broadens, you will make of your son or daughter a nature-lover and a nature-observer, before he or she is out of child-hood; and thus you will start them toward a never-failing, and never-exhausted field of interest. Furthermore, you will have sharpened their eyes and minds until they will be quick to see and eager to investigate not only the facts of nature but anything else which attracts or is forced upon their attention. That means that they will acquire, without knowing it as an effort, activity of mind, and one of its most precious possessions-the habit of observation.

By many poems, stories, and articles our Library teaches the importance of observation in relation to nature, and we commend "The Chameleon," Volume I, and "Eyes and No Eyes," Volume III. The animal stories in the last half of Volume IV are the result of their authors' minute observation, one notable case being "The King of the Trout-stream." In Volume V "Walks with a Naturalist" and "Nature-Study at the Seaside" will acquaint the young reader step by step with the marvelous things of his ordinary environment. Consulting Volume VI we find "The Grand Canon of Colorado," "Expedition to the Pacific Ocean," "Life and Scenery in Venezuela," and a number of kindred travel articles containing the fruits of keen observation. Our Volume VIII is likewise full of rich material, but we especially mention "The Habits of Ants," "Spiders and Their Ways," and "The Forms of Water." In Volume XI read the poems in the divisions "The World We Live In" and "Friends of Field and Forest." Memorize as many of them as appeal to you-a few lines a day will soon give you quite a repertory of delightful poems.

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