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Remembering My Parents

by Dr. Ernest Marshall

The author relates, beautifully, how his parents inspired a lifelong love of nature and learning.

Some of my earliest memories are of happy hours spent ambling in the outdoors. Walking home from elementary school I often tarried in Lowry Woods to swing on grape vines, watch for rabbits, or lie daydreaming by a pond shimmering with dragonflies and watersriders. After chores I was usually off to a willows-shaded pond to go crawdad fishing or try to catch a bull frog or garter snake. I have these cherished boyhood recollections because of how my parents raised me. In my growing-up-days kids didnąt have indoor pastimes like TV and video games and most parents didnąt have the money to buy their children expensive toys and pastimes. The common parental solution to seeing that their children were "entertained" was the command: "go outside and play". In those more rural times, before nearby thickets, groves, and creek banks disappeared beneath waves of suburban development, that meant to spend time in nature.

My parents also encouraged an interest in nature in other ways. The natural world is something they valued, and they wished to pass this on to me and my siblings. My father came from countless generations of farmers and never forgot this legacy. He returned to the farm each summer, the whole family in tow. Those were happy summers indeed, summers in which I came to know my father's love of the land and its bounty. Farming in those days was more diversified and less driven by technology. Such terms as "agribusiness" had yet to be invented. The family farm was a dairy farm, but included pigs, chickens, rabbits, bee hives, peach and apple orchards, acres of corn, barley, and wheat, a large vegetable garden, even a couple of horses that once pulled a plow. It seemed a gentler kind of agriculture, making more room for nature. The farm included extensive woodlots and brambly fencerows. The black rat snake under the milking shed was welcomed as a needed mouser. Even an occasional fox or raccoon in the chicken coop was accepted as part of the natural scheme of things. An example of this attitude is my Dad and his brother Carl sending me to the upper pasture with Uncle Carląs single-shot .22 to shoot a groundhog. It wasn't that they felt menaced by the groundhog -- itąs a rare event that a cow ever breaks a leg stepping in a groundhog hole. They were feeling a bit prankish and wanting to offer an adventure to a bored boy. They knew the groundhog would outsmart me. And it did.

Equal to the influence on me of my father's farming background was his career as a chemist. The essence of science is curiosity, open-mindedness, and experimentation, and the belief that nature is to be explored rather than feared or ignored, values I learned at an early age. The following recollection may help explain. When I was 10 or so I found a hog-nosed snake on one of my woodland rambles and brought it home for a pet. I keep it in the garage which was OK with my dad, that is, until I brought it to the house to tease my mother who was afraid of snakes. My misbehavior wasnąt punished nor the snake banished outright. Instead, my father took me to meet a colleague who taught biology at the same college where Dad taught chemistry. This man gave me a needed lecture on snakes, and also encouraged an awakening interest in birds, a subject much fonder to my Mom's heart. Shortly after, I released the snake where I found it, realizing that wild animals don't make good pets. My interest in nature hadnąt been stifled -- and my knowledge of it had gotten a boost -- and all because of the way my father handled the situation.

My mother's influence was at least as profound as my father's. Her education was in the humanities rather than science, the path which my own career would one day take. From her I learned an appreciation of literature, art, and history, and that it takes the soul of a painter or poet as well as the mind of a scientist to fully experience nature. She introduced me to poets such as Wordsworth, Keats, Bryant, Emerson, and Whitman, who enjoin us, in Wordsworth's words: "Come forth into the light of things,/ Let Nature be your teacher", and also to the world of art. One of my most memorable boyhood trips was one to Washington, D. C. Naturally, the high point was the museums on the Capital Mall. Dad took us boys, me, Jim, and Bill, to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Meanwhile, Mom, pushing my little sister, Madilyn, in a stroller, went to spend the afternoon in the National Gallery of Art. I was of course enthralled with the reassembled dinosaur skeletons towering over me, and dioramas of mounted animals from around the world. But all the while I wondered what I was missing at the other museum. Years later I found out, and spend many happy hours strolling through art museums with my mother ... many happy hours of strolling through shimmering forests, flowered meadows, and wheat fields created by Constable, Monet, Corot, Van Gogh, and other artists.

Besides these memories of my parents are many more, of singing the old songs at the piano, family trips, conversations around the kitchen table, my Dadąs stories of his youth. My parents' impress on my life is a treasured gift.

Copyright by Ernest Marshall.

About the Author: Ernest Marshall is a retired university professor and wildlife educator. He taught Philosophy for 32 years. He spends much of his time working with state parks, offering environmental education and hands-on nature experiences to school-aged children. His other interests include bird-watching, astronomy, art, books, and visiting his two children and three grandchildren. He lives with his wife, Karen Baldwin, and their dog Dina in Eastern North Carolina. This beautiful article is one of many installments in his nature column in The Coastland Times.

Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 1, page 4

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