Soccer Moms, Step Aside!

If you haven’t heard of EO Wilson, here is a man who is easy to admire. He specializes in ants—in fact, he’s the leading expert on ants—but he shares his own devoted fascination and stewardship generously with the world at large, promoting the Encyclopedia of Life and offering sweet optimism for the fate of the human race and other species, based on our smarts and our sense and our compassion and enthusiasm.

I was looking him up because he coined the term “biophilia” and in fact wrote a book with that title, and it basically means a love for all living things, an instinct that draws us to notice, to be attentive to other forms of life. But I was sidetracked by a quote from him that rose up at me on the search page:

 Soccer moms are the enemy of natural history and the full development of a child.

From what I understand about Mr. Wilson, he’s a nice man, and I am sure he likes moms nearly as much as he likes ants, or that at least he extends his magnanimous biophilia to the species of highly motivated human females who aim to edify their kids. But people got his point, about kids who are not free to explore, who are programmed and scheduled and limited in the ability to muck around aimlessly outdoors (a practice that can lead to quite wonderful discoveries!). The book Last Child in the Woods expounds on that very same theme.

Lest I offend anybody, I myself have been a soccer mom, and actually the time running around on the fresh mown grass, and seeing the early autumn sun descend behind the scrimmage, while not exactly an environmental safari, is a fairly wholesome pastime. So it’s not the soccer, nor the moms who encourage it to which Wilson refers—it’s the cliché of the minivan on overdrive, zipping from selected activity to selected activity without regard for exploration, expansion, or for what simple time in nature may have to offer.

It’s worth reading the whole interview on the Nova Web page. When asked to elaborate more on what children being out of touch with the natural world may mean, Wilson added:

 What does it mean when you say a child or a person hasn’t fully developed? Suburban environment, watching football, moving up the ladder at the local corporation, sex, children—all that is pretty satisfying. But what does it mean to have a world that just comes down to that? It’s hard to say. All I know is that not developing in that direction, having enough people not having a sense of place associated with nature, is very dangerous to the environment.

Food for thought, Mr. Wilson. For soccer moms and–come to think of it–for all of the rest of us.

Look Down


The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.
James Oppenheim

It’s become a bit of a cliché that people don’t look up enough; they don’t take the time to gaze up at the clouds, the stars, the echelons (you know, that V pattern!) of migratory birds.

But what about looking down? My recent early morning walks have yielded foot-level sightings of rabbit families, colonies of funnel web spiders, a scurrying vole, entire condo complexes of ants, and a visit with a stunningly decorated moth in the center of the brick sidewalk. The pattern she boasted was reminiscent of some of the fine, filigreed, turn-of-the-last-century marcasite you can find at estate jewelry counters. My Golden Guide told me she was a caterpillarworm moth. They are known to lay their eggs near wounds in tree bark. My find, if she is lucky, will live three or four years. I think I increased her odds by removing her from the flow of foot traffic.

Of course,  my casual observations don’t hold a candle to those devoted to looking down, probably at the risk of getting stuck in a stooped position. EO Wilson, Pulitzer prize winner known to many as “the ant man”, can’t stop waxing enthusiastic about his favored species and his newer, inspired project, the Encyclopedia of Life. In The Forest Unseen, David George Haskell spent a year observing all manner of tiny life in a meter-wide mandala. And a chapter in Alexandra Horowitz’ On Looking is devoted to “Flipping Things Over”, in which field naturalist Charley Eiseman is a vigilant and enthused observer of insect (and other small creature) signs—tiny larval trails in a leaf, slug teeth marks, and such. This is the kind of guy who spends five hours in a driveway turning over leafs and logs before setting out on the “official” invertebrate tour he’s planned.

Those of us of a certain age, especially, will hear Casey Kasem’s voice in our heads when we read the quotation: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”It’s a phrase associated with American Top 40, but I think it’s okay to adopt it for much quieter time outside in nature, too. There’s a lot to see curbside, right alongside your sneakered feet.

Happy stooping!