Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Still Living to Learn


Maine Lupines on the Roadside
I remember my mother once saying that she was going to plant some Lupines. I did not know what those were.  She knew lots of wildflowers' names, and birds' names, too.  I was so intrigued as a little child to find out that things had specific names, not just  "tree", "flower" and "bird".  As I got older, I began to realize how really impressive it was that my mother knew them. She was a city girl who didn't have anyone to teach her the names of plants and animals.  But she was an original life-long learner and self-starter.  If there was plumbing to do, she was there by Dad’s side book in hand to "make suggestions" as to angles and materials.  Raise chickens?  No problem.  Make chokecherry jelly?  Done!

Mom and Dad always provided support and encouragement when it came to learning anything. We had pretty much free rein when it came to inventing, creating and investigating.  Knowing my love of science, my parents purchased for me a chemistry kit one Christmas and a real microscope on another. Learning was something my parents never stopped doing, and they kept all the doors open for us to follow after.

My parents moved to a fairly rural area when they were newly married, and my mother, as a young married woman with three small children and another on the way, became friends with another young mother who lived next door.  I remember playing with the neighbor’s daughter while our two mothers watched birds in the backyard and thumbed through bird books. They collected wild plants and pressed them between pages. I was 4 years old at that time, just old enough to realize my mom was learning things.

When I was 5 we moved out to the real country on ten acres of fields and woods. Mom taught me the names of birds and plants that shared our new habitat.  When I asked her a butterfly name once, she didn't know it.  So I took it upon myself to learn about butterflies and other insects. After all, she had done it!  Why couldn't I? 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
She bought me a couple of the little books called Insects of North America and Butterflies of North America.  I looked at those books for hours on end learning names and facts.  Often I'd carry my books with me, as I sat in the fields watching for new creatures.

At some point I saw a display of insects and butterflies mounted in frames, and so I determined that I could and would make a display board of butterflies of my own.  I had to research how to kill a butterfly without damaging the specimen.   I cannot believe that I was prepared to do that, but I thought of myself as a scientist.

So I set out to find the perfect specimen.  I found a beautiful Mourning Cloak as my first butterfly to mount. I put it in a jar that I'd put something in to kill it. I don't remember what the something was; I’d researched it, and with my chemistry kit, I’m sure I had something that would work.  It may have been simply some fingernail polish remover.  At any rate, the butterfly stopped moving, and I got my card stock and a pin. I lifted the lifeless butterfly out of the jar and carefully pushed the pin through the thorax and into card stock.  My first specimen was complete! I was a collector of butterflies and a real scientist!  What kind of butterfly would be next?  I raced outside to see what I could find.

It wasn’t until after lunch that I returned to my bedroom laboratory.  I went over to my bureau where I’d laid the butterfly specimen, but it wasn’t there.  I looked down on the floor thinking perhaps the wind had blown it off.   I found the card, but there was nothing on it.  The butterfly and pin were both gone.  My heart sank, I realized I had hurt a living creature. The small room with it's open window was no longer a laboratory, but a room of torture from which my impaled butterfly had escaped.

My mom said it was sad, but it was how we learned sometimes.
Thus ended my career of collecting specimens, but my fascination with learning has remained.  I have many things yet to try.  Thanks, Dad.  Thanks, Mom.

6 comments:

  1. It's so interesting what turns our lives, & you showed us that lesson from yours well. I was wondering until it happened what you would think of pinning the butterfly. You led well down the path of your learning, & what it meant.

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  2. What a thriving environment you had. A place to learn and grow...and a wonderful mentor to observe. the perfect place for a budding scientist and a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing. I love the lupine picture. When we moved to NH, I was so taken by that beautiful flower and was reminded of Miss Rumphius...a wonderful story.

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  3. I love to read how you worked through the whole butterfly and insect display idea. I thought about the same thing. I made a leaf collection and did "pin" a few butterflies and moths. I think it is wonderful that you were given the freedom to learn and see your parents as they continued to learn. I hope that I can pass that onto my grandchildren and have passed it on to my children. I have a feeling that you have done that too. Your Eastern Tiger Swallowtail reminds me that I miss seeing them. There used to be many of them in our fields. We seldom see them anymore. I think I know why, but I'm not totally sure. It may have to do with the genetic testing of the plants and changing it so we don't have to use insecticides. But it kills the creatures who eat our plants. I'm not sure if it is something we want to mess with. Are we ruining the balance of nature? That's another subject. Thanks for sharing. Happy slicing! :o)

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  4. What a great memory - I love how you described thinking of yourself as a scientist - I want to bottle that and help all our students feel that way.

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  5. Thank you for sharing the passion for learning both you and your mother had. I was fascinated by your story.

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  6. I loved your story too. I cringed when you impaled the butterfly, ouch. But I loved the nuturing of your curiosity and investigating. What a wonderful learning environment you had growing up.

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