Margaret Anderson (no kin, darn it) couldn't have picked a better title for her exquisite book about Jean Henri Fabre, the father of experimental entomology, than "Children of Summer." And as far as I'm concerned, you couldn't pick a better book to introduce to your children—and entertain yourself—than Anderson's 95 pages of Fabre's observations.
From the opening story, "The Hermit of Serignan" (which has Fabre's son Paul's description of his famous father), all the way to "The Great Peacock Evening," the final story in the book, the author and talented artist, Marie LeGlatin Keis, have teamed up to bring us a grand read.
Fabre was a man with unquenchable curiosity and an intrepid explorer—but rarely left his own backyard. It wasn't necessary, the world of insects and spiders in one's backyard can entertain, teach, and help anyone with a gram of curiosity wile away the hours and never be bored.
Years ago I told many groups of young people while conducting natural history field trips for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry that if they ever found themselves in an uncomfortable situation with no escape, if they zeroed in on insects (or spiders) interacting with Nature they could not only survive, but enjoy themselves. I not only believe that, but I've practiced it so often it's become a Life Habit.
Over the years that statement has come back to me time and time again from many of those kids (who are no longer kids, but have grandkids). They call, make contact by email and snail mail, and we meet in all kinds of places, and with the marvelous exuberance of children begin the conversation with, "Oh, Jim, let me tell you what we saw..."
Insects and young people go together like peas in a pod; children are built close to the ground, and that's where a great deal of the action is when it comes to insects doing their thing.
An opposite to that would be gnats. Adult gnats spend most of their time on the wing in mating swarms, making sure they meet up with the opposite sex and maintain the species.
You can even find gnats flying during a warm spell in winter, and in summer they are just about everywhere. If you happen to be at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California in late summer you will see huge flights of gnats playing in the wind, appearing as smoke wafting from the tops of juniper trees. If you're a fisherperson of the high lakes you can see millions of gnats drifting by in shimmering clouds, wafting over the towering trees.
My first time to really enjoy gnats was when I was an Federal Aviation Administration glider instructor in North Plains years back. I was up in the two-place, Schweitzer 2-32, with a student who wanted to perfect his cross-country soaring skills, and in order to get good at that you have to watch for birds soaring in thermals.
Well, we had run out of lift and were slowly gliding down to what was about to become a wheat field landing (which wheat farmers do not like!) when I spotted a bunch of swallows slowly going up.
"Head for those swallows!" I shouted to my student, but he couldn't see them. There wasn't any time for bird-watching 101, so I said, "I've got the glider!" and headed for the swallows. Luck was with us; I felt that glorious bump in the seat of my pants that means lift just as we made the bottom of a wonderful thermal—and up we went, headed for the swallows.
As we caught up to them I could see they were flying in and out of a great bunch of gnats in a mating swarm, also going up in the thermal. Then one of the swallows looked over its shoulder and shouted, "Holy Moly! Look at the size of that hawk—and it's already eaten two people!" And they all let loose at once, covering the sailplane's windscreen with white swallow poop.
Not being able to see what was ahead, and sitting in the front seat, my student shouted, "We're gonna die!" But he forgot I had a window on my side I was able to look out of, locate the gliderport and land safely. What Timmy, the chief pilot, had to say about all that swallow poop is another story.
If you're one of those poor unfortunates who have never been hooked on the world of insects, or wish you could get your and your children into enjoying that limitless world of nature, go to the library's web site: www.dpls.lib.or.us and order Children of Summer. Or head for your favorite bookstore, purchase Anderson's beautiful book and share it with your children.
And wait 'till you try out the macro mode in your new digital camera on insects; your world will never be the same!