My daughter has always needed nature. She’s enjoyed hikes and bug hunts since she could walk. One of her biggest concerns when we first discussed moving to Boston was losing her access to it. Fortunately, the natural world isn’t easily put off – at most, it can be organized into gardens or hidden in plain sight.
When we moved one of our first objectives was to help her find the places it was hidden. And it really is hidden everywhere!
Let’s start with the obvious. Most every city is going to have at least a few parks. In Boston we’re lucky to have a bunch. Frederick Law Olmstead (who later designed NY’s Central park) designed Boston’s Emerald Necklace to make a ring of green space around the city. It’s easy to relegate parks to the realm of generalized “recreation” areas, but they don’t have to be limited to baseball and frisbee golf. They’re also great places to share the natural world with kids. There are trees and grass, birds, and bugs. It’s home to enough explorable nature to keep a family busy for years.
Streets and sidewalks are the places where nature begins to hide in plain sight. The key is to remember that, just because someone poured some concrete or laid some bricks doesn’t mean that all life ceased. Stop pretty much anywhere and you’ll see insects, a few indomitable plants, and some combination of sparrow variants and pigeons begging or stealing crumbs.
When in doubt, look up. You might not see them too often, but a lot of raptors (hawks, falcons) make their home in city skies. Migratory birds will also fly by pretty frequently, depending upon where you live (hint: this includes most places).
The takeaway is that portals to the natural world can be found almost anywhere. Just arm yourself with a camera and a willingness to follow your kids’ curiosity to its conclusion. So when you hear, “What kind of spider is that?” you snap a picture of it and hop on the internet.
My daughter and I are collectors by disposition and we’re embarking upon an epic quest to identify and collect (via pictures) every bit of Boston’s natural world. We’re on the lookout for each plant and animal species – we’ll photograph and research every unique insect, tree, flower, and bird we come across and share our findings here. Reader submissions are welcome, too. Who knows, maybe we can crowdsource up a complete encyclopedia! And next time you and your son or daughter are walking along and they ask what kind of tree that is, maybe we’ll have an answer for you…