Touching, Smelling and Tasting Nature in North Carolina

Eat this dandelion. (flickr | Michael Kappel)

If you’re like me—and the rules of blogging dictate that I must assume you are—you hear ‘Davidson’ and think of former Davidson College great Stephen Curry, a 2008-09 consensus first-team All-American and current Golden State Warrior (If you’re really, really like me, you’ll also think of the time Davidson lost to Maryland in the first round of the tournament and Maryland subsequently lost to Butler by three points due to a bogus foul. But I digress!).

Now the North Carolina-based college is doing something pretty interesting for environmental education. The decade-old Davidson College Ecological Preserve has recently served as host to family outdoor learning excursions as part of World of Wonder (WOW!), an environmental education partnership of the Davidson Lands Conservancy (DLC) and Woodlands Discovery.

Scientific American guest blogger and DLC volunteer Lilly Vicens on a recent outing:

The goats were no doubt the initial attraction for families that signed up for the free program, but children were greeted by WOW! Volunteers with recipes for Kudzu salsa, candy, and jellies, along with bags to collect their fill of Kudzu leaves along the way. Immediately darting from vine to vine, choosing only the smallest, most flavorful leaves, one six-year-old girl exclaimed, “this is like free salsa!”

Yes, the goats. As in a herd of them, rented by Davidson to sustainably control marauding kudzu vines (kids got to learn a little about invasive plants too).

Vicens writes that participants “were encouraged to not only see and listen, but to touch, smell, and eventually taste nature in all its wonder.”

Carolyn Walker, Director of Woodland Discovery, organizes the WOW! educational booth at the Davidson Farmer’s Market, which stays busy with families participating in the latest environmental craft, activity, or concept – from solar ovens to flower printing. Last Saturday there was a line of children waiting to see a cloud of tadpoles and take some home, but only if they promised to release the frogs back into their original habitat.

Sometimes this is the best way to combat the indoor childhood phenomenon and its resident life hazards ( sloth, obesity, environmental illiteracy, et al).

For me, experiencing nature was capturing and observing centipedes and woodlice, tasting wild onions and dandelions, smelling everything on the ground until I found something rank (I was a boy). It was those experiences that led me to the library again and again for books on wildlife and instilled a lasting appreciation for the natural world.