Today on the drive home from work I listened to NPR. Two scientists were being interviewed and while I couldn't entirely grasp why they studied the distance an ant steps, what did catch my attention was the story of one scientist talking about a photo when he was 9 of him outside holding a butterfly net and looking into it. The other scientist had a very similar story about a similar photo at near the same age. They grew up almost a world apart and met one another and began doing research together.
Their stories got me to thinking--what was my earliest memory of being outside with animals? I remember being six living in Lubbock, Texas and playing with big red ants. I would play with them alone, mastering my technique of picking them up one at a time, without being bitten. It was huge competition between the other kids in the neighborhood of who could pick up ants and not get bitten. Apparently the honor of winning was huge to get me to practice as often as I did.
I then remembered being nine and being with my friends and climbing up ivy that grew on the side of a neighbors house and taking a nestling sparrow home to raise. I thought it fascinating holding a real live bird and one so tiny was miraculous. I remember the smell of the ivy and thinking of how thick the woody stems were and how they could hold my body as I climbed without breaking. I remember hearing the adult sparrows giving what I know now their distress calls. I remember hearing the nestlings cheeps as their parents sounded the alarm. I also vividly remember my mom telling me to go put the baby back, and I did. But that didn't stop my finding critters.
During that same time frame we lived in San Angelo, Texas and apparently horney-toads were abundant. (For those not versed in the Texan vernacular, 'horney-toads' aka horned lizards are small lizards that have virtually disappeared from the landscape because of the prevalence of residential pesticide use.) I remember collecting a coffee can full of horney toads of all sizes. I had been in my mom and dad's room, laying on their bed playing with them. As happens, I lost interest and went outside to play with my friends. I was across the street and two doors down when I heard my mom scream. I knew immediately what it was all about and raced home to collect the now free roaming reptiles. I still remember my mom finding me to rescue a rogue lizard and take him outside when she vacuumed inside.
I do have other vivid memories growing up but I wanted to remember my very first critter encounters. So that would explain why I do what I do today.... and love.