By Diane Curtis and Romy Leuchs-Curtis
Editor’s note: The following conversation between Diane, a Hitchcock parent, and her daughter Romy was originally presented at the Hitchcock Center’s Salamander Sunday Brunch held at Amherst College. We hope you enjoy their story.
In order to understand how much I, as a parent, appreciate the Hitchcock Center, it’s important to know a little bit about my own childhood. Don’t worry – I’ll make this brief.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I say that, people imagine beaches, and ocean vistas, and sailing on the Bay. But as a poor kid with a single mother living in Richmond, that was very definitely not my Bay Area childhood. Rather, it was miles of concrete and grids of tract houses with tiny patches of brown “lawn,” stretching out not toward the Bay, but toward the Chevron-Standard oil refineries, that – bonus! — provided the evening aroma of burning sulfur wafting over our neighborhoods. There were no camping or ski trips to the Sierras, or regular excursions to what might be called nature. Just cement playgrounds and admiring from afar the tip of Mt. Tamalpais that we could see from our house.
So I was a little disconnected from the natural world. And that was even before I spent my 20s in New York City.
When I left the City in my early 30s and moved to Western Mass, it was partly because I was aching to take down all the defenses I had built up around me, living in cities for so long. Those walls that Julie mentioned, the ones that keep us from connecting to the natural world. And I knew that I didn’t want my then only imagined children growing up behind those same walls.
But letting down the walls is only a first step toward connecting. I didn’t fully realize that difference until our older child was in the nursery at the Common School. Every day, he was outside, in the community garden, over at Bramble Hill Farm, and, of course, on the Hitchcock Center’s trails. He was learning so much, and it felt, well, natural to him in a way that my concrete playgrounds had not prepared me for. Because nature for me was still that thing out there, not a part of me, and I wasn’t a part of it.
It became clear that if I wasn’t intentional about this parenting thing, I might pass on to my kids my persistent vague discomfort in nature. Don’t get me wrong: I love living in the country! But, you know, there are animals and things there!
It’s my younger child, Romy, who has been the one to really take advantage of the Hitchcock Center and its programming. First, when she was a preschooler, and she was enrolled in the afternoon dinosaur camp. She learned so much every week, at the Hitchcock Center, on the trails, and even coming over here to the dinosaur museum at Amherst College. Best of all, I got to go with her!
Then, she got older, and sadly, I couldn’t accompany her any more. For the last two summers, she’s spent several weeks at the Hitchcock Center camp, and it’s really been the coolest thing ever. This is where she’s been immersed in nature, all day long, and learning at an unbelievable pace. And most important to me, she’s got none of the discomfort in nature that I had and maybe sometimes still have. It’s not just that she doesn’t have the walls of a city kid, but she truly connects with the natural world in ways that I can just imagine, but that I appreciate so deeply. Learning, fun, connection. As a parent, I couldn’t ask for more.
This all leads to some interesting discussions between city kid me and my country kids, especially when Romy comes home from camp and I ask her what she did all day…
So Romy and I wanted to give you a little flavor of what those conversations are like.
Diane: So Romy, what’s your favorite moment ever at the Hitchcock Center?
Romy: My favorite time ever at the Hitchcock Center was when I saw a snake.
Diane: A snake!!! What happened??
Romy: It was on a nature hike and then we saw a snake.
Diane: And then what happened? Did your teacher scream, or tell everyone to stay back?
Romy: No. She picked it up.
Diane: What?!? Hannah did that??
Romy: Yeah, she did. And we got to touch it.
Diane: Wait, your teacher let you touch a horrible, icky, poisonous snake??
Romy: No, it was not poisonous or venomous. It was just a garter snake.
Diane: Ew. What did it feel like?
Romy: It felt scaly and damp because it was a reptile and it was cold-blooded, so it felt kind of damp.
Diane: Well that’s kind of cool. I guess. And did you bring it back to the Hitchcock Center?
Romy: No! Because one of the rules in the Hitchcock Center camp is to leave nature alone because the oils on our hands could make them sick.
Diane. Ohhh. And so what’s your favorite thing that you ever learned at the Hitchcock Center?
Romy: Well, my favorite thing that I learned was about animals migrating and hibernating.
Diane: What’d you learn?
Romy: I learned that when birds are migrating, that they don’t just guess where they’re going and mostly get the right answer. But they actually sense the magnetic fields and they use stars to help too. So it’s basically like they have a compass inside them.
Diane: That’s crazy! Have you learned about other kinds of animals besides snakes and birds?
Romy: Well I’ve learned that not just birds migrate but other animals migrate too. Like buffalo I think and whales do.
Diane: And what did you learn about hibernation?
Romy: I learned that frogs hibernate, but they have different ways of hibernating. For instance, most frogs half bury themselves in the mud and hibernate there, and the pond above them freezes.
Diane: But didn’t you also learn about other frogs?
Romy: Well, there’s one kind of frog that does it differently, and that frog is called the tree frog. What basically happens is that its body freezes on a tree and even the frog’s heart stops beating.
Diane: That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. So do you want to go the Hitchcock Center camp again?
Romy: Of course I do!
Diane: How come?
Romy: Because it’s so fun that you get to learn and you get to play at the same time.
Diane: Do you think other kids should do the Hitchcock Camp too?
Romy: Yeah, because they learn how to fit in with nature.
Diane: Why is that important?
Romy: Because later on in life, you might have to be with nature a lot.
Diane: You might want to be with nature too, right?
Romy: Of course you might want to do that, especially after you’ve done a Hitchcock Camp!!
Diane Curtis is a Hitchcock Center parent. Romy Leuchs-Curtis has attended Hitchcock Center’s Nature Discovery Preschool and Nature Summer Camp programs.Click here to return to full list of blog entries. Or chose a specific Blog category below.