Some of the first words my grandchildren said were “walk” and “outside”. They always calmed down as soon as the door or window was opened. They quickly forgot all the chaos of being inside and pointed to the sky, the sun, or a bird. Their eyes would widen as they slowly took into account this much larger world outside their home.
Even now when I get the honor of going for a walk with a grandchild, I jump at it because I learn so much from their point of view.
One of the main attractions as they learned to walk was picking and eating berries. Berries are found in meadows, along hedgerows, and on the edges of forests. In berry picking season we head off to pick black and yellow raspberries, wine berries, and blackberries. We also pick and eat mulberries, blueberries, and grapes.
But, of course, it’s tricky. What berry is safe to eat and how ripe does it have to be are always challenges?
“Berries!” My granddaughter cries out.
“Don’t pick the green ones. Make sure they’re ripe. Let me see them before you put them into your mouth.” One has to be diligent.
What’s nice about a 4-year old is that they can almost be trusted in knowing what to pick and when to pick it. They also have developed an ability to pick and not eat everything immediately. They can even share some of their bounty with others.
“No, grandpa, these are for mama.”
So, its great fun to forage for edibles. Now you might think that meadows lose their attraction when berries are not in season.
“Grandpa, lets go pick berries.”
“We can go check but I don’t think there are any ripe berries in season right now. But we can look for other things.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Fortunately, there are so many flowers throughout the summer and with flowers come all sorts of insects. Dragonflies and damselflies, preying mantises, cicadas, and butterflies are great attractions in meadows. I love to pick up and examine ones which have died. They are beautiful and if you give your 4-year old a box to store them in, they can create quite a collection.
“That’s a Chinese preying mantis.”
“I want to pick it up. Can I touch it?”
“Be careful, it’s alive and can pinch you. You have to hold it like this.” I show her but it flaps away into the grasses like a wind-up toy. It’s pretty exciting.
Now there are two challenges with falling in love with meadows. First is that they are the most endangered habitat in many parts of the country, so they’re hard to find. I dedicated a whole chapter to this challenge in my second book, Saving The Places We Love. We have regulations that preserve forests and wetlands, but in most areas, meadows are just mowed down for farming or development. Where I live we have lost the beautiful sounds and sights of the meadowlark and the Bobwhite. They have left because there is no longer enough habitat for them here. What a loss! I can still remember how I used to call Bobwhite into my backyard just by mimicking their call (bob…bob…white).
The best meadows we have locally are at nature preserves and under power lines. Some of these meadows are managed as areas where native grasses grow – which of course support many native insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles.
The second challenge when exploring meadows is that you should always check for ticks when you are done. Some ticks carry diseases. We have found a few deer ticks over the years which can transmit Lyme disease. So we have made it a practice to check whenever we go for a walk through brush.