I am not a conversationalist. I go through life as monosyllabic as possible. I greatly prefer to listen. I lead a mostly silent existence. Just the way I like it. Mute and demure.
Ages ago, when I was wee, however, I fancied myself a micro David Attenborough and would wax on about all things Nature- to any poor sap that would listen. Happily, I quelled that odious impulse as a craggy old adult.
But I was rattled, recently. A rambunctious lad, the nephew of a friend, challenged my stance of stolid silence. Oh, he did all he could to crack through my laconic exterior. And now, since then, things have not been quite the same…
It had been another blazing day in the furnace, I mean Florida, when we picked up my chum and her nephew (an unexpected addition) for a jaunt down to the nearest freshwater spring for a swim in the scintillating, gemmy waters amongst the gars and the manatees.
The Lad, a boy of nine years, was quite a force to be reckoned with, and was also armed with a gargantuan bag of sweets…a child-shaped tornado, thus, swirled around in the backseat all the way to the spring.
Right away, I saw the child was bent on destruction and found imitating a demolition truck to be his favourite hobby. When released from the car, he immediately set out to ravage the local plant-life and spurt apple-piece projectiles at squirrels. Then the child became distracted by something shiny and sharp and moved on to that.
Here he is, attempting to tear off this innocent manatee’s flipper
Well, I had to divert his attention, somehow. His auntie (my chum) was hopeless. And Sir was terrified of the child. Sir, wide-eyed and staring, quivered there like a soldier just returned from the trenches. Up to me.
The human-shaped tempest then plucked up a massive palm frond and began poking at people, plants and now insects. A palm frond is very stiff and sharp, I will have you know. It is a joy to be prodded by one.
“Right, time to go gator-hunting,” I said mildly, handing the lad my pack with two giant lemon-and-black flippers poking out.
“Wear this, it will make you look like a pro-snorkeler and very cool,” I said.
He put on the pack and applied the goggles I had handed to him and we trotted toward the aqueous solution up ahead.
“Drop the palm sword and you can wear the snazzy flippers,” I said as we mounted the cold metal stairs.
He agreed and we lapsed into the refreshingly cool depths.
Of course, he picked up another, later…
After I inspected the fish-life darting about the shallow spring bed, I showed the lad how to get within a few inches of a massive, half-blind, leopard-banded gar fish. Then I showed him where gators had made depressions for sleeping and where a snapping turtle was most-likely to be found.
Then we swam to the spring-head, where the gurgling waters splashed the deep, crumbling sides of the blonde limestone surrounding us. I took him into a misty alcove where the walls of the limestone were black and especially dank and murky- and where the spiders loomed.
“That one is bigger than my hand!” exclaimed the lad in bulbous-eyed terror.
There is no greater joy than scaring innocent children.
I rambled on and on, by that point, about the flora and fauna of the spring, not realising that I had not blathered that.much with another human being in years.
It was in that moment that I noticed something was different- the tempest child was no more. He had been replaced by a polite, soft-voiced micro-scientist. He was transfixed by my babbling nature lecture and was not only respectful and courteous, but absolutely fascinated with the wonders surrounding us.
In that moment of realization, I was reminded of a quote from David Attenborough-
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”
– David Attenborough
My chum and Sir were long abandoned by this point, unable to keep up with the two science-heads conducting their research up and down the spring, as it bled into the tea-stained river at one end, and gurgled up, fresh and clear, from the inner depths at the other.
We chattered incessantly, analysing and absorbing every detail of our surroundings, until a coy mist swathed the now chilly waters. The solemn light slipped away and we were forced to clamber up out of the watery wonderland before a canoeing ranger could pummel us.
As we dripped back toward the exit, the young scientist suddenly stopped and turned to look up at me and said something quite disturbing.
“I have never met anyone who thought science and math were cool, before,” he said.
I stood agog.
“What, not even your teachers?”
“No, they hardly teach anything about it, and no one thinks it’s cool. But I think science and math are awesome!”
And that is what left me rattled.
My thoughts recently turned back to those words when I was reading the blog of a blogging chum, Rebecca Budd, and I came across a tribute she wrote to a pioneer of animal rights- Humanity Dick & The Donkey
I found the article affecting and enthralling and wrote a comment to Rebecca, to which she left me this grand reply-
“What I found most interesting was that Richard Martin’s determination to fight for animal rights had its genesis in his childhood. His mother’s love of animals ignited the spark of compassion in a small boy. It is a reminder that one generation transfers ideas, values, dreams to the next. Our actions and conversations DO make a difference now and in the future yet to be formed.”
I do not know if what the lad and I discussed that day left an indelible mark in his life but his words certainly affected me profoundly. He cracked through.
Perhaps, adding a few more syllables to the conversations in my life, here and there, will not kill me, after all- every now and then.
Home at last
“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”
– David Attenborough