Published: Jul 03, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 01, 2012 04:15 PM
Footsteps fly up our wooden front steps. The door shoots open.
And then comes the familiar cry at my house this summer: “Mom and Dad! You’ve got to see this!”
It’s a joyful sound. My kids are explorers, navigators of the outdoors, friends to wildlife. They’re thrill-seekers, walking the tightrope of a fallen branch. This one’s set just so in the forked trunk of a tree.
Steady, steady, they walk. And then jump! They’re birds soaring to a soft landing just a few feet below, where they discover bird’s nest fungi, castings from worms, spiderlings that look like pinpoints on the back of a mama wolf spider.
My entomologists, my mycologists, my wee scientists, they don’t miss a thing. And they still want to share much of it with me.
Over the course of just a few days, my husband and I have raced out to see baby and adult box turtles, large flying bugs with crazily long antennae that we later learned were prionus beetles and the largest black widow we’ve ever seen. I suspected it was a very pregnant she, and my elder daughter and I took her to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.
Apparently we’re not the only ones who like to donate black widows. The Insectarium’s manager, Leon Bradford, told us he gets a steady supply of black widows from the public as he deposited our soon-to-be mother in the museum’s black widow display case. He thought the southern black widow – with a mutation that gives her the tell-tale red hourglass on both the underside and backside of her abdomen – would spin her egg sac that night. Her spiderlings won’t be alone. It took me a while to spot them, but finally I made out the gazillions of teeny orange spiderlings crawling through the case that later will be the black widows we know.
Bradford told us he has to hunt for Hercules and bess beetles as well as cecropia moths and larva, and we’ve vowed to help him – as if we need another excuse to explore the woods.
And so my husband didn’t need to twist our arms either when he asked us to participate in the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout on June 23. The campout is part of the federation’s Be Out There movement to get more people outside. According to the website, just 25 percent of kids today play outside daily. Just think what those other 75 percent are missing.
As we lay in our tent in our back yard, we watched fireflies in the trees and listened to frogs and the buzzing of insect life all around us. A prionus beetle followed the light of my husband’s headlamp, flitting against the tent, as Jeff read a “Dare to Be Scared” tale to us.
I snuggled with my younger daughter as she dreamily gazed into my eyes. And later, much later, my husband and I woke to the snorting and stomping of a doe in the woods around our back yard. We held our breaths and listened, peering into the dark.
I wanted to wake my girls, but I didn’t. I know we’ll have more outdoor adventures, more days and nights of exploring together before they decide they’re too independent for their mom and dad.
Catherine Wright lives in Hillsborough and homeschools her children. This summer, they’re continuing their Nature School study of survival in the woods. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories of exploring the outdoors.