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Friday, August 22, 2014, 1:13 a.m.
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Nature’s beauty

A gift that lasts a lifetime

By Keith Sutton

This article was published May 25, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

keith-suttons-son-zach-is-eye-to-eye-with-a-box-turtle-children-who-experience-nature-up-close-like-this-will-spend-more-time-outdoors-and-less-time-playing-video-games-and-watching-tv

Keith Sutton’s son Zach is eye to eye with a box turtle. Children who experience nature up-close like this will spend more time outdoors and less time playing video games and watching TV.

From inside the house, I hear the rain starting — the first warm spring rain of the year. My sons are watching television, but I feel it is time for them to stop.

“Come on, boys. We’re going to take a ride,” I say.

“Where are we going, Dad?” they ask.

“You’ll see.”

We drive a short distance down the road. I stop, turn off the key and roll down the window.

“What do you hear, boys?”

They listen.

“Frogs!”

“That’s right. But do you know what kind? How many different songs do you hear?”

In a puddle by the road, peepers sing … and chorus frogs … and leopard frogs.

“I hear three kinds,” Shaun says, “but I don’t know what kind they are.”

“Then let’s find out,” I say.

For four boys, a rainy spring night full of frogs is a little like heaven. They laugh and giggle and splash in roadside puddles. When all is done, their fruit jars are full of amphibians.

“We’ll take pictures of them tomorrow. Then we’ll let them go by the marsh out back. Maybe they’ll stay around.”

Twenty years have passed, but each year in our yard, we hear the descendants of those frogs as they sing. And it’s the boys who always notice them first.

“Listen, Dad,” Zach says. “I hear chorus frogs singing out back.”

“Sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

• • •

From a bush behind our house, an indigo bunting sings. I am planting flowers when I hear it and call my son Matt to join me.

“Listen, Matt. Do you hear that bird? Can you find it?”

He looks around and finally spies the bunting on its perch.

“I see it,” he says. “Wow! I never saw a bird so blue. It sings so pretty.”

“That’s why they’re called songbirds, son,” I tell him, “because they sing such beautiful songs.”

• • •

In a corner of our yard, beneath a trio of small pines, black-eyed Susans bloom in autumn.

“Come here, Zach. Let me show you something,” I say.

“Flowers,” he says.

“Yes. Aren’t they pretty?”

“Can I take some to Theresa?” he asks.

“Let’s leave them, son, and bring her here to see them.”

Zach runs to the house and gets his stepmother. She comes outside, kneels down and touches the soft petals of the yellow flowers. My son smiles. “Aren’t they pretty, Theresa?” he asks, smiling.

“Yes, Zach. They’re beautiful. Thanks for showing me. I love flowers.”

• • •

Across the water, high atop an ancient cypress tree, sits a huge golden eagle. In the early morning sun, the hackles on its neck gleam like a king’s mantle.

“Look, boys. Look through the spotting scope at what I’ve found.”

They take turns at the eyepiece, examining the bird, which is scanning the ground below for ducks to eat.

“Is that an eagle, Dad?” Josh asks when it is his turn to look.

“Yes it is, son,” I reply.

“Then why doesn’t it have a white head?” he inquires.

“That’s because it’s not a bald eagle, son. This one is a golden eagle. They’re much more rare in Arkansas. We’re lucky to see it.”

“I never knew they were so beautiful, so big,” Josh says.

The eagle flies. Our hearts go with him.

• • •

The cat meows pitifully at the door.

“What’s all the ruckus, Tigger?” I ask. At his feet lies a deer mouse. I pick it up and take it inside.

“What is it, Dad?” the boys ask in chorus.

“Come see.”

The mouse is not dead. It stirs feebly in my hand.

“Ooh! Look, Dad! It’s alive.”

The little creature’s big black eyes begin to shine. I can feel its tiny heart beating beneath my fingers.

“What kind is it, Dad?”

“A deer mouse, Jared.”

“Where did it come from?”

“Tigger caught it. Probably out by the brush pile. We don’t see them much, but they’re out there. They’re tiny, and they come out mostly at night, so people hardly ever notice them.”

“Can we keep it, Dad?”

“For a day or so. Until it’s better. Then we’ll let it go, OK?”

“OK.”

They hold the mouse and feed it and carry it in their shirt pockets for three days. And in three days, they learn the beauty

of such small creatures, so seldom seen.

The mouse scurries away when they release it by the brush pile.

• • •

To them, the snake is danger.

“Dad, come quick,” Josh implores. “Shaun found a snake in the backyard.”

I walk to the spot where the boys are gathered round. On the ground before them is a glossy black serpent peppered with speckles of gold.

“It’s OK, boys. It’s just a kingsnake. This one won’t hurt you.”

I catch the snake and hold it for them to see.

“You can touch it, if you like. It’s not slimy or anything. It feels very smooth.”

Little fingers stroke the snake’s back. Its forked tongue tests the air.

“Oooooh. Look at its tongue, Dad.”

“That’s how it smells, son. He’s just trying to figure out what you are. He wants to be sure you’re not going to eat him.”

“Can we keep him?”

“For a day or two, maybe. Then we’ll let him go, OK?”

“OK.”

• • •

Nature is full of beautiful sights, sounds and fragrances. But as we scurry about in today’s modern world, distracted by so many things, we often overlook nature’s offerings. And despite good intentions, we often fail to share them with our children.

If we don’t share them, someday they may be gone.

Hold your children close today, and share the sweet smell and beautiful colors of a flower. Coax them away from the TV and video games so they can listen to singing birds. Get them outdoors awhile, and observe with them the many creatures that share our world.

It is important that you encourage your children to open their eyes and ears and hearts and souls to the beauty that is only found in nature. For when you do this, you are giving them the most precious gift an adult can give a child — a gift that lasts a lifetime.

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