By Jensen Montambault, The Nature Conservancy
Raising a young conservationist is a whole lot more than making bird feeders out of used plastic bottles and foisting them on grandparents and unsuspecting neighbors. It’s an agreement to live with nature like an emotional equal, as part of the family.
Our four year old, for example, loves “baby pine cones.” I mean LOVES them. She brings the small hemlock cones scattered around our yard into the house by the fistful, cradles them, sings them lullabies and tucks them into bed.
But this bucolic vision ended the morning there was no space to make breakfast because the entire kitchen counter was covered in baby pine cones. It was too much, even for two parent-ecologists like us who usually appreciate locally-sourced decor.
“You canít bring in any more pine cones,” her father told her.
Tears, real tears, gushed. I had to throw the cat a life jacket before flipping the eggs.
“But I can’t let them sleep outside,” wailed the young conservationist. “They will be cold and lonely.”
Her dad tried the logic angle: “If you fill up the house with baby pine cones there won’t be any place for us to sleep and then we will be the ones sleeping out in the cold.”
“We have a tent,” countered the young conservationist.
He tried the scientific method: “Hemlocks are ‘r-selectors,’ which means they make countless pine cones so that even if some get eaten or some wash or rot away, some will make it to be adult trees. There is no way you can rescue them all.”
“Not these baby pine cones! I can count them all.” The young conservationist raced outside and planted herself on the walkway. Her dad joined her around two-hundred to try the habitat approach. “Honey, we like to live in the house, but the pine cones like to live out here. It’s where they have everything they need to grow.”
“This is their house?” wondered the young conservationist. “But it is muddy.” We had a wet, heavy late February snow. Icy patches hung on grimly to the north of the deck.
“Besides,” said her dad, “by the time you finish counting these pine cones, the tree will make more. It’s a renewable resource.” The young conservationist slowly came inside.
That night, after her dad went to put her one-year-old sister to bed, the young conservationist and I fixed her lunch for the next day. She pulled out a handful of baby pine cones she had been hoarding in her lunch box.