We didn’t intend to be there when it happened.
Every time the doors close behind us, it is like walking into a tropical exhalation, the humidity, a thickness I gratefully enter, shedding layers, feeling my skin relax and my curiosity awaken. It is a refuge we regularly seek out. That afternoon though, the air was filled with living confetti, a vivid blue butterfly landed on my daughter’s shoulder. Iridescent, it perched, fluttering, soft as a blink. We had come to visit the tropical rainforest room on the day of the butterfly emergence.
It felt as though the Vancouver Aquarium had orchestrated wonder on an ordinary afternoon just for us. There is nothing like touching a fragile newly-living thing to foster respect for the visible and invisible ways in which we are connected to the world around us. Help a child to see the wonder in nature and a conservationist is awakened.
Extreme weather is everywhere this spring. Our eyes are on the tornados, the floods, the fires. But the wee creatures? They are the canaries in the extreme weather coal mine, and here on the West Coast they have not emerged. The bees in particular are vulnerable to this year’s unseasonable cold, and they remain huddled in their hives, unaware of the blossoms dripping on the branches of my sodden apple tree.
I won’t write about the fear this stirs in my heart, nor will I harass you with statistics. What I’m going to do, like all worried mothers, is nag. Though we cannot change the weather, nor hold back the storms, we can awaken small sparks of awe, tend to our small corners of the world, and hope for our fruit trees and pollinators alike, that the seeds will take.
Here are some places to start:
Plant a packet of sunflower seeds. Sunflowers are easy even for beginner gardeners, even for scrubby patches of earth. The fuzzy fast-growing flowers are a delightful summer yarstick for your kids and they make the butterflies pretty happy too. If you don’t eat the seeds yourself, leave the heads to dry and watch the birds and squirrels delight come Fall.
Creating homes for the solitary hard working mason bees is a fun and rewarding afternoon project. You can simply drill holes in a log, get creative with straws, or find info on ready-made houses. If you grow any kind of fruit trees or bushes, these humble bees are your friends.
Spend an afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium, visit the rainforest or the Pacific Northwest tanks and learn about the ways in which we impact and depend on the circle of life that surrounds us.
Set up a bird feeder. Improvise a bird bath. Make someone responsible for keeping the water fresh. Chances are, they will feel more responsible for the creatures that come to drink as well.
Teach your kids not to freak out when a bee zooms by, or even lands on their arm, but to sit quietly instead. Watch how living in harmony is possible just by being still. I have never yet been stung when I've done this, and never fail to feel glad my arm or hat gave a pollen-laden bee a momentary place to rest.
*Teach the difference between a bee and a wasp. Wasps are a different sort of striped stinger, a ravenous scavenger with a nasty bite but even they will mostly move on to that nice piece of sandwich given the chance to escape your flailing limbs.
Visit the Apple Festival this fall. Let your kids play in the mud, get their face painted, bring home a taste of bio-diversity.
Bring the whole family to shop the city Farmer’s Markets. Tomatoes taste better when you choose them yourself.
Support the UBC Farm. Buy veggies and watch their bees in action.
Pick berries in summer (we love the farms on Westham Island next to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary) and visit the pumpkin patch in the fall. Encourage the farmers who grow the foods that support the chain of life to which we are all yoked.
Find the wonder. Hug a pollinator.
Funerals. Weddings. Sudden illness. Anniversaries of marriages and sometimes of deaths. We gather and it reminds us of the things we know are essential, but which we put carefully and lovingly aside, like the good china or the silver candlesticks, out of the way once the everyday hustle takes over again.
My Grannie had a small “incident.” At 97 things can change quickly. I got on a plane. I went, I came back. In between I tried to make sure she felt seen, that she remembered the things she’s forgotten in the sorrowful fearful dwindling of strength and time.
We were eating in front of her favourite television program, and, thinking I was making an occasion of dessert, I had set out the old silver spoons I found in the drawer next to the everyday cutlery. She asked me to take away her spoon and bring one of the small mis-matched ones from the everyday drawer. It looked like the kind used for camping, or airline service before they switched to plastic.
When your hands are bent with arthritis and the bones in your wrists have become brittle you will only want to use thin, cafeteria-weight cutlery. When your feet swell and your waist has vanished, you will tamp down the back of your slippers and pull your sweaters a little lower so the undone button doesn’t show. Maybe you’ll take a walk anyway.
Or maybe a walk is too exhausting and you don’t want anyone to see you in your broken slippers. So you will stay in. Soon enough, you will feel forgotten. So why bother?
I tried to help Grannie bother. I washed out the silk scarves, which hide gravity’s crueller effects and distract fashionably from pulled-down sweaters. We walked a bit. We laughed often because sometimes that is the only thing you can do.
Shortly after my return I baked a cake. Next to the plates I set the rarely used inconvenient small silver forks with their odd notched tines and pleasing, unfamiliar weight. A few nights later I tossed nugget potatoes in the pretty gilt-rimmed special occasion china bowl even though it was a Thursday night, and it was just us, with homework in the corners and the dog drooling under the table.
I want remember what truly matters. I want to live until I am weak from loving well and being loved. I want to learn to fix my mistakes a little better every year. I want to stay interested in other people and I want to remember to be kind. And when the time comes to set down the silverware, I want to use the mismatched lightweight stainless spoon with the dented handle because I also want to be able to eat the strawberries and cream."