What’s wrong with this picture? You’re 6 years old. You’re lying in the grass, staring up at a blue, blue sky. It is summertime. If you lie perfectly flat, the raw, steady wind feels like a soft, warm breeze. Puffy cumulus clouds move across your view like the tall sails of invisible ships. Where are they going, what marvelous places? You feel sleepy, safe, and sun-warmed, as you think vaguely about the great expanse of world beyond the horizon. Forests, deserts, oceans, gleaming cities, tropical gardens. It’s all coherent, if mostly unexplored—it’s just waiting for you.
The rhythmic drone of a bumblebee makes you sit up suddenly, on the alert. Then you ease back down. It’s not a bee, you see—it’s a small plane, bug-like, way up there in the sky. Your contentment is somehow deepened by this sonorous company. It feels as if you and the plane are the only creatures outdoors today. You watch it as it works its way back and forth across the sky, disappearing for awhile, then looping back up into view.
It’s a crop-duster, spraying the crops with insecticides. The plane aims at particular fields, flying in low to discharge the poison, then swooping up into the blue. The stuff blows all over. It blows onto the crops and onto the crop-eating insects, as intended. It also blows onto bumblebees and back yards and vegetable gardens and any small children who happen to be lying in the grass there on the edge of town, loving the world and all the things in it.
This year at the International Wildlife Film Festival (April 14 -21) there will be a Saturday morning discussion-workshop on the topic of kids and wildlife media. According to the festival schedule, this will be a time for teachers, students, and parents to talk with filmmakers, scientists, and educators about wildlife film and television for young people. It will be interesting to see what kinds of questions are asked and what the answers might be.
For example: What about those feelings of primeval delight that can exist for a 6-year-old, those vivid imaginings of paradise? Can these be considered to comprise the wellsprings of the child’s later environmental activism as an adult? Or might they represent an embryonic (and dangerous) delusion that, if left untended, will only grow? Should the 6-year-old, or 5-year-old, 4-year-old (3-year-old?), be told that the world isn’t how it might seem, that a lot has happened since creation’s first days? Should all small children be taught to be on the look out, early on, for the crop-duster?
A reviewer of Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature, writes, by way of praise for this study of man’s catastrophic contribution to the greenhouse effect, that “no natural process now operates beyond the range of human influence.” What do children make of this message?
The Wildwalk part of the International Wildlife Film Festival is always celebratory, and many of this year’s films will surely leave us with more joy than depression. This is probably a good thing for young viewers. Some studies have suggested that students who receive an intensive and rich rainforest curriculum early on in their education—complete with a thorough acknowledgment of the many man-made causes of environmental degradation—end up showing less interest in rainforests than those who come to the topic a bit later. Maybe it’s just too hard to hear at age 6 that natural beauty can be suspect, that chemicals might lurk anywhere, that ecosystems are trashed and it’s partly your fault, and that what you love today may not be here tomorrow.
For a list of screenings for the 24th International Wildlife Film Festival, see page 52. For discussions, workshops and lectures, check out this week’s listings in “8 Days a Week.”