Let me put together several recent conversations I had with my kids into a single narrative.
“Dad, what did you study in college?”
“Well, I majored in Biology…though I have a liberal arts degree. That means I took more classes than I could have, with a wider focus than you might suspect but still spent 40 hours/week dissecting dead cats and sharks for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. I also had a job on campus caring for animals in the Biology department. I raised rats and mice, cared for the snakes and lizards and cleaned the salt-water aquariums. But mostly I tried to convince your mother that I was the right guy for her while working several jobs at once so we could finish college with minimal debt.”
“Well, yes. But also salamanders and frogs and turtles. In fact, when we look through Tom R. Johnson’s book, “The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri” I have observed or collected nearly everything pictured short of the toads that are only common in Western Missouri.”
“Yup. Snakes. Lots of them. Most of the snakes that live here are safe to handle and, if you are careful how you act around them, actually seem to like it. To them, you’re just a warm tree. Tom Johnson’s book indicates that there are probably 3 Prairie Kingsnakes for every acre. Now, to be sure, ask me before you go picking up snakes. There are a few around here that can really hurt you and one you may be allergic to. Here, hold this Prairie Kingsnake. ”
“Where did you find it?”
“The neighbors are cultivating their field to plant beans. That ruined his habitat so he was crossing the road looking for a new home. Since we have acres and acres of grass he’ll probably find a home here.”
Beyond the wildlife, there’s cool dead stuff out here too! My cousin’s bull died in the creek two or three summers ago and with the recent rains the bones resurfaced. It’s an exciting time of discovery…and work. They dig for cow bones in the creek bed then haul them over hill and dale to our back porch. I think they want to re-assemble them…like I need a bull skeleton in my living room. Hmm…let me know if you want a cool bull skeleton in your living room. We haven’t found the skull yet.
Or pick up a dead frog. Whatever.
Moving out here wasn’t necessarily the best financial decision we could have made but none of the children in our former subdivision have excavated cow bones from a creek bed. I drive a long way to work each day. I think it’s worth the sacrifice. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my kids will be in therapy after years of helping butcher chickens, swimming in creeks, fighting off ticks and going potty in a bucket. Who knows. Maybe they would have been in therapy if we had lived in the suburbs and taken them to ballet. At least they will be physically strong and healthy as they sit on the therapist’s chair. Maybe they’ll give the therapist something interesting to listen to for once. There is the very real possibility that my kids will be able to handle what life throws their way…that they will be well-adjusted, thoughtful, caring, curious, intelligent men and women of God who don’t need a therapist, just a little time for reflection in the woods.