The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A boy’s imperative

Frog on mossy island beneath a small waterfallWhat is it about a stone that commands a little boy to throw it in the nearest pond?

The two-year-old stood by the electric stream last night, picking up river-run stones from the dry part of the pond and tossing them into the pool at the bottom of the stream. Some missed and landed farther up, but they still were in the water, and that is what counted. I thought about telling him how much effort I’d expended to get them “just so,” but then I remembered:

Most of the effort had been to get the stones looking more or less natural where they lay – and what’s more natural than a young boy should throw them just to see the splash?

I remember when, as a lad, I stood beside the lake next to which I was raised, looking for exactly the right flattest rock, curling my pointing finger around its edge, and scaling it low across the water, counting skips, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, until the rock ran out of energy and sank into the subsurface weeds. Sometimes, as will happen when two or more kids are in close proximity to a pond or midstream pool, there will be a contest to see who can get the most skips.

There are not enough ponds or midstream pools anymore, at least not easily accessible to young boys. In too many places, houses have taken over the shorelines, many of which now are marked by “No Trespassing” signs, often in front of cottages occupied only occasionally by non-resident landowners. In states such as Kentucky and parts of West Virginia, coal “miners” have scraped the tops of mountains into the low-country streams, allowing access to seams of fuel to be used to generate electricity to run the video games of kids who can no longer learn to skip rocks across the water because there is no water large enough.

And it doesn’t have to be very large. Twenty or 30 feet across will do. But the electric stream in my backyard doesn’t qualify. Close your eyes and it sounds like a stream, but when you open them again, it’s just water being pumped to the top and allowed to fall back down into the pool, where the pump carries it back to the top.

I’d like to take two-year-old Peter fishing, and I may, but I’m discouraged when I ask about eating the fish, and the answer is, “You can’t keep them here; it’s catch-and-release,” or “You can’t eat them; there are warnings about mercury.” When I was coming up, we caught fish for dinner. I still have difficulty getting a grip on why someone would kill a critter or tire a fish without intending to eat it.

Unfortunately, cleaning the water to make fish safe to eat requires polluting companies to spend money, and commercial fish farmers to lose it. And it causes ocean waters in the vicinity of “farm-raised” salmon to become seriously polluted with the end product of fish feeding functions.

In 1996 this nation’s urban dwellers finally outnumbered their rural brethren. A mere 17 years later, 80 percent of our population live in urban areas. Most of the offspring will never know the fun and accomplishment of catching a fish for dinner, or skipping a rock across calm water. Instead, they sit indoors, playing video games, thinking that is what war is about, and knowing their groceries come from the supermarket.

It’s a great life for Monsanto and other agri-tech firms. For the kids, not so much.

So for now, Peter is hereby invited to throw as many as he’d like of those river-run stones into the stream, and when he’s gone home, I’ll slip out and rake them back where he can reach them on his next visit.

1 Comment

  1. Great story with a profound moral. A week ago I took oldest great-grand (6) to a local Earth Day celebration. We both had a good time. At the end of the day, he lay down on the end of the canoe pier and watched the tiny fish learn to swim in the shallows. A precious few minutes for this grandma who could remember doing the same when she was a little girl.

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