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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teaching Dylan and Abby about Seed Dispersal

Here's my favorite thing to do with kids: take them out in nature and hone my translation skills.

I have an engineer's vision of natural processes as being cut from the same cloth as heat transfer and osmotic gradients. I think of seed dispersal and root branching in terms of entropy and suface-area-to-volume ratios. But I can't talk to kids about heat transfer and osmotic gradients and entropy and surface-area-to-volume ratios. I need to fit my vision to their eyes. Between the majesty of nature and the child's perception must stand an intermediatry: a Metatron whose voice a nascent ear can hear. To be that Metatron is a life's calling.

I've given variants of this speech to Dylan many times during our walks along the roadside. To teach Dylan, and now Abby, the sundry evolutionary innovations in seed dispersal, I speak in terms of mother and child, of animals and fire. Nature has no intent, but I rely heavily on anthropomorphic imagery. A decade or two from now I can explain to them my abstruse notion that evolution doesn't happen, but rather fails to not happen. For now, I fill their heads with vivid images of nature to lead them to reverence.

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