“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ―Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
My daughter walked into the kitchen today while I was listening to NPR, and listened to a story about scientists in New Hampshire who discovered new archaeological sites from colonial times. These sites are getting washed away because of climate change. She sputtered, “Oh, great,” with her ever growing ability at subtle sarcasm.
So much of what our kids hear about climate change is gloom and doom. And with increased rates of infectious diseases and asthma, climate refugees, and histories and habitats getting destroyed or forever changed, as parents we need to teach our kids to love and defend our planet. But how can we do that without teaching them to marvel at the wonders of nature?
One way we cultivate wonder, joy and curiosity in our home is to participate in citizen science. We help species or habitats in need. During springtime, one incredible experience is to venture out into the great salamander migration that takes place from Canada to the tip of Florida.
The coming of spring here in Vermont means rain, and lots of it. My daughters and I pull on our boots, raincoats, grab our flashlights and head outside to see if our salamander friends are out and trying to cross the dirt road in front of our house. Often, we go out late in the evening, and the kids get to stay up a bit.
It is a special night.
My daughters and I scan the roadways for shiny eyes, small slick bodies, and movement. The light from our flashlights scatters in the rain. When you find one, a rush of excitement comes for this living creature with bright yellow spots, making its way across the road – a spotted salamander. Or maybe an eastern newt, in its bright orange red eft phase? The bright colors are a delight to winter weary eyes. Then we gently carry it with wet hands across the road carefully and safely in the direction it was heading (toward pools and ponds). We notice the tiny toes, the round eyes, the long, sleek tail – something worth protecting, as these salamanders are a key part of the forest ecosystem that can protect us from climate change.
But in Appalachian Mountains, hotter, drier weather attributed to climate change is causing salamanders to readapt. They burn energy faster in the heat and shrink in size. According to a study published in Global Change Biology. Six species of the salamanders are now 2–18% smaller than they were in the 1950s, as they adjust to their new climate.
Spotted salamanders only come out on a handful of nights here in Vermont. They crawl out from burrows, leaf litter and tree root homes, to travel to the vernal pools and ponds where they mate and lay their eggs. Experiencing their life cycle in action, and science in motion, is something my kid and I love. Cars can hit this vulnerable species as they try to cross to pools and ponds. So we help them.