About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

HERE’S TO THE MOMS — and Dads — who teach the love of nature by example, despite certain phobias ….

My mother, an artist, hovered above science: she saw the pure beauty of the natural world. And she loved all animals — despite a serious snake phobia and the fact that her older son wanted to become a herpetologist.

momWhen I was about eight years old, my father and I were working in the big garden behind our house. My father stopped dead in his tracks. On the ground in front of him was a two-foot long length of black water hose dug up by the rototiller.

He considered it for a while, then picked it up, went to the basement and found an old Tinkertoy box – a round cardboard tube with caps on each end. He folded the black hose and wedged it tightly inside and capped the tube.

With me in tow, he marched to the kitchen where my mother was making lunch. He handed the Tinkertoy box to her. “Here, there’s a present inside,” he said.

She opened it.

The snakelike hose flew into the air. She did, too. I had never seen her jump that high. In one acrobatic feat, she was on the counter. Screaming. My father the Joker and his short accomplice fled the scene of the crime.

A few months after the Tinkertoy incident, she performed an act of heroism, defying her recently enhanced phobia. In those days, Boys’ Life magazine hosted advertisements in its back pages for all manner of wild animals that you could purchase, mail order. I wanted a raccoon, but my parents offered a compromise.

One day, the mailman delivered a box – about the size of a shoebox – postmarked Silver Springs, Fla., or somewhere like that. Something moved within it.

Curled up inside was large, purplish-black snake, of a species now endangered. Just having that snake today, let alone selling it mail order, would be a crime, and rightly so. But times were different.

The snake was about five feet long (or so it seemed) and I loved it. It made the perfect accessory – worn like a cowboy bandanna or a noose around my neck – as I walked past the bridge club ladies in the living room.

It seemed to fancy me, as well. But there was a problem. Inside the mail order box, the snake had rubbed its nose raw on the chicken wire lining. A fungus called canker mouth resulted. So my mother came to its and my rescue. Every afternoon for several weeks, I would take the snake out of its terrarium, sit on the edge of my bed with the snake in my lap, and pry its mouth open with my fingers. It never bit me.

Approaching carefully, keeping her body farther away than anatomically possible, my mother would stretch her hand toward the snake and use tweezers to remove pieces of the fungus from its mouth. Then she would sprinkle the contents of a penicillin capsule along its teeth. I recall my father helping, too, but she was the one on the front line. Later, she may have had to lengthen the right sleeve on every blouse and coat.

heres to the moms 3Given the fact that this was a fungal disease, not bacterial, the penicillin did not work, and the snake didn’t make it. I was heartbroken. But not for long.

I perked up when a neighbor gave me a baby pigeon to raise. I kept Petey (of course!) outdoors in an open bird house that my father built. When I rode my bike down the street, I would sometimes hear a whooshing sound, and Petey would land on my shoulder and lean into the wind.

Petey also liked to fly into the house, through the living room, take a right turn at the dining room, hurdle into the kitchen, and dive bomb into the dishwater as my mother did the dishes.

Petey was into the suds. My mother always thought that was hysterical. She did not have a pigeon phobia.

Now, I know times have changed and so have attitudes about bringing wild animals home, but that was then. After April rains, my parents would put my brother and me in the back seat of the ’53 Dodge and cruise the country roads. My father would slam on the brakes. My mother would leap out and scoop up migrating box turtles to save them from being run over by passing cars.

She was a fierce fisherwoman, and she was the best Cub Scout den mother I ever had. All the other den mothers had us do disreputable things like construct Thanksgiving center pieces out of empty syrup bottles, fall leaves and doilies. Doilies! When my mother took over the den, she took us on forced marches through the woods. She carried a big walking stick just in case she ran into a snake.

I was a lucky kid. In later decades, my parents experienced more than their share of tragedy, but in those early years, life really was idyllic. I owe my love of nature to both of them.

Perhaps you had parents who gave you that gift, one way or another.

So here’s to the mothers and fathers who get their kids outdoors. Here’s to them.

____________

Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network and author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @RichLouv

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More reading

What Is Your Most Transcendent Experience with a Wild Animal? 

 

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  1. Susan Andersen says:

    My Mom died recently at age 94 and I am so grateful for her ‘free-range’ attitude of child rearing. My brother and I would head out early and just after we yelled, ‘we’re leaving’, the screen door would slam and she would yell back ,’be home for dinner.’

    My brother was lover of snakes(and every other critter) and I was the terrorized one; but only of snakes. And so it was not uncommon for us to be wandering through the woods or by the abandoned shed in the field and find things.
    On this unfortunate day, as I put my hand on the trunk of the tree, the largest snake in all of North America (surely) slithered under my hand. And, in typical fashion- I fainted.
    And, in typical fashion, my brother grabbed the snake and went home.
    Fortunately, my Mother observed the critter and then asked, ‘Where is your sister?’ Acknowledging that my limp body was on the ground in the woods, she told him to go back and bring me home- and leave the snake somewhere else- as it was clearly ready to give birth.
    You know the rest of the story. He came back for me. He put the snake in his hiding place and then happily displayed baby snakes to me for the next week.
    I love my Mom- she was looking out for everyone. I am so grateful for my childhood ( most of it).

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