Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Armchair Environmentalists

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Armchair Environmentalists

Article excerpt

I set out walking on this late summer morning like a tourist carrying a guidebook in a foreign land. But my paperback is no Baedeker, no Fodor's and there are no stained-glass windows, no church spires, no statues on this island.

The worn pages hold the names and colors and images of a thousand wildflowers. I take it with me today to learn my way around this landscape, flower by flower, the way I know my city, street by street.

By birth I am an urban dweller. Nature is my second home. I grew up absorbing the difference between brownstone and brick and concrete. But here I am still a sightseer.

So I have had to learn the difference between a tansy and goldenrod, between the false foxglove and the common primrose. I have had to memorize the names of wildflowers the halting way you memorize a foreign language in middle age, building your vocabulary slowly, claiming and reclaiming each noun, verb, adjective, until you feel at home in its vocabulary.

It's been 15 summers since I first came here with a tennis racquet and a civilized point of view. Wooed into the landscape by my greed, I went after nature for all I could take: the sweetest berries, the plumpest mussels.

It was years before I discovered where the wild oregano grew and which dandelion leaves to pick and how the mustard seed tasted. More years before I could identify the other inhabitants: the flight pattern of the goldfinch, the rattle of the kingfisher, the elegant posture of the heron.

Now, slowly, I am onto the next course of study. I am coming to know the extravagant variety of wildflowers that complement and compete with each other for space here, that come and go like vacationing mainlanders from one week to the next.

But if I am a late bloomer in this outdoor classroom, I am not the only one. Today, most of us and most of our children have the most un-natural of educations.

The average American child knows a thousand brand names before she is 8 or 9. But how many leaves can she name? A 10-year-old can tell Pepsi from Coke. But can he tell Queen Anne's lace from yarrow?

Teen-agers all know a Nike sneaker from a Reebok. But there are few who can name the "weeds" that surround the playground - the blue cornflower or the lowly plantain. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.