Volume 12, #2 (March -- April 2000)
From the Editor
Mahatma Gandhi often said, "We must become the change we wish to see in this world." If we want to see an ecologically balanced world, we need to live a life that is ecologically sensible and respectful to nature. How can we begin?
First of all, we have to feel a sense of belonging-that we are an inseparable, intrinsic part of the web of life, of natural systems. We have to love this home of ours, the only home that we will ever have. We can't just pack our bags and move to another planet or solar system. We belong here and now on this earth.
Learning to love nature is hard to do in our modern world where we hop from one artificial environment to another. From our centrally heated or air-conditioned home, we jump into our powerful automobile that keeps us isolated from our natural surroundings as we rush to enclosed schools, factories, malls, and offices.
When we come back home, for entertainment we glue ourselves to the tv tube or the computer screen. For play and exercise, we go to parks with plastic play structures and lawns full of chemicals; to enclosed, artificial athletics arenas; or to video arcades and movie theatres. Even when we go hiking, we are far removed from a true wilderness experience if we bring high-tech hiking gear that keeps us insulated from the extremes of the weather as well as the warm, moist feel of the soil beneath our soles. How many minutes a day are we in true communion with Mother Nature?
In many places, we can't even quench our thirst with pure, fresh water straight from the ground. Often, we consume bottled water, soda pop, or hot drinks. When was the last time you fed your hunger with raw products-fresh carrots straight from a garden or fruit you plucked from a tree? Most of our food is highly processed. It is no surprise that we feel afraid of untamed nature and treat the natural world as distant. What is natural has become alien to us!
From this moment on, let's make a point to experience nature in our everyday lives. Take an unhurried stroll in a meadow, breathe fresh air in a grove of trees, feel the moss-covered rock ledges near a waterfall. Let's reconnect with the earth and nature spirits with a feeling of respect and gratitude. From windowsill planters or a full-fledged backyard garden, to hiking, kayaking, canoeing and swimming in natural areas, mountaineering, beach-combing, birding, back-country camping, or week-long wilderness adventures in remote regions, there are many ways to spend our free or family time in communion with nature. Let's plan many such activities during holidays and vacations, weekends and evenings-whenever possible. Rewards await us.
Many Native American coming-of-age ceremonies offer youth a vision quest experience to discover themselves. The guided vision quests, silent spiritual retreats, and sweat lodge ceremonies they undergo can teach us how to revere nature. Visiting organic farms, planting a garden, subscribing to a community supported farm, or buying locally grown, fresh produce at a farmers' market will also help us connect with nature.
As we embrace Mother Nature, we learn to identify with our natural roots, and we become true naturalists-friends of the rivers, mountains, wilderness, and the environment. When we see ourselves as an integral part of the ecosystem, we can't help but find ways to protect our natural home. Our love of nature will show us the many steps we can take to reduce our society's harmful impact on the incredibly beautiful web of life and biological diversity.
Welcome to our Earth Day 2000 issue!
-- Arun Toke, Editor
-- Ru-Woei Foong, 14, Shanghai, China,
The Enchanted Fairyland of Opal Whiteley
Opal Whiteley was born in 1897 and grew up in the forests near Cottage Grove, Oregon, America. As a child, she eagerly learned all she could about everything around her by reading books, asking questions, and especially watching and observing the ways of all the natural creatures, whom she called fairies. When she was about six years old, she began to keep a diary. She wrote on any kind of paper she could find, from paper sacks to leaves. As Opal grew up, she continued to write down the things she saw around her and to learn more and more.
During her teenage years, Opal traveled. She visited towns and camps and spoke to children and their parents about the beautiful fairyland around them. Often the children would accompany her on walks into the forest, enchanted and mesmerized by all the things Opal showed them about the fairies and their ways.
Eventually, she put these observations in a fanciful book called The Fairyland Around Us, so that, as she says, "others may know some of the same joy." Although she had raised money to pay for the publication of her book, there were difficulties at the last minute and the original publishing plans were scrapped by the would-be printers, who claimed they needed more money because Opal had changed the text before printing.
Deeply disappointed but undaunted, Opal managed to save enough money to pay for the printing and binding of two-to-three hundred books, with blank pages where the illustrations were to go. Opal worked tirelessly, pasting in wildlife pictures and writing captions by hand.
Opal sent copies of The Fairyland Around Us to many influential people. Mr. P. Claxton, Commissioner of Education, exclaimed in a letter to Opal, "I have read your book with interest and delight. I should be glad indeed if copies of it could be put in all of the schools of the United States."
Today, only about five of these books are still known to exist. One of them is preserved in the library of the University of Oregon, and it is from this book that an Internet website has been created. Here you will also find the diary Opal kept as a little girl, pictures of her and her animal friends in Oregon, and more about her life. Now people everywhere can read about Opal's enchanted fairyland. Come visit the website at www.Liloriole.net anytime!
-- David Caruso, Eugene, Oregon.
Souf: The Nectar of Flowers
"Kids, I have something sad to tell you," Mom said, a few weeks after the Dahans moved into the upstairs apartment. "Souf is very, very sick. She has cancer of the stomach."
Souf (meaning "nectar of flowers" in Hebrew) had just had her first birthday. I went to her party reluctantly, but stayed afterward to play with her because she was so much fun. She held my finger in her tiny hand and led me from room to room, pointing at each of her toys and telling me its name. I was amazed that a one-year-old could make me laugh.
I was in sixth grade, and I played basketball after school every day. When Mom told me how sick Souf was, she said, "Maybe you could visit her for a few minutes every day, since she won't be able to leave the house until she gets better."
"Fine," I agreed. "As long as I don't miss basketball practice." Every time I came to the door, Souf was excited to see me and reached behind my back for the small surprise I always brought. Once, it was stickers and an album. I divided the album into sections for butterflies, fuzzy figures, and day-glow stickers. Souf's mother, Estee, told me Souf showed it to everybody who came to the apartment.
I especially enjoyed visiting at bath time. I would sit next to the tub and squirt Souf with squeegee toys, which made her squeal with laughter. My daily visits got longer and longer, but I still had time for basketball. One day, Estee had scary news: Souf was going for an operation. She would have to stay in a sterile hospital room. "Only her closest relatives can visit her. That means her father and me," said Estee, "and you, too, since you're just about one of the family."
That made me feel important, but I was nervous. When I walked into the hospital room with a white mask over my nose and mouth, I was shivering inside.
"Hi, dinosaur," said Souf, giggling. She liked animals so much that everything reminded her of one. Her laughter relaxed me and soon I was pantomiming (imitating) different animals for Souf to guess what I was. The afternoon passed quickly and I didn't mind missing basketball practice. Souf came home from the hospital with a tube in her stomach to funnel the medicine into her body so she wouldn't need injections. I worried that the tube would hurt her, but it didn't. She understood that the medicine would make her better. Her stomach was so swollen that she called it her balloon. "We have to make the balloon go down," she told me cheerfully.
I told my parents, "No matter what happens to Souf, she turns it into a game. I've never known anyone else like that."
A few months later, Estee said, "Souf is going to have the tube removed. The cancer should be gone by now." I hadn't felt so happy since I'd won my basketball trophy.
After the operation, we took Souf to the beach, where we had a special celebration ceremony. I felt as if I had played a part in fighting her cancer.
Souf's head was bald because she was still taking medicine. She couldn't play outdoors because direct sunlight would make her nauseous. And she couldn't go to a play group because there were too many contagious diseases. So for her second birthday, she and I got dressed up in funny hats and bandannas.
"When you get better, we'll go to a museum where you can see hats and costumes from all over the world," I said.
"We're planning to take you and Souf to Disneyland next summer," Estee told me.
"Really?" I couldn't believe it. "That more than makes up for all the basketball practice I have missed!"
But the joy didn't last long. When Souf went back to the hospital for a routine check-up, we were shocked to learn that her cancer had come back. It had gotten much bigger and more serious. Just when we thought Souf was recovering on fast foward, her body was getting sicker, instead. Souf was cheerful, but I couldn't bear to think that she was going to die.
After Passover, I was frightened to see how thin and tired Souf looked. But she still liked to play. Knowing she loved animals, I brought my cat, Toffee, to visit her. We put funny hats on Toffee and took photographs. The next day, I went to the local pet shop.
"Could I borrow a bunny rabbit and take it to Souf for a few hours?" I asked, explaining how sick she was.
"Sure," the shop owner agreed. Souf sat on the floor and the bunny hopped around her. She laughed and laughed, but soon she was too tired to play. I returned the bunny to the pet shop and went back to visit Souf, telling her stories and holding her hand. Two days later, on 23 May, she died.
"You were her best friend," Estee told me at the funeral.
"And she was mine."
I spent the week of shiva (mourning) sitting on the floor of the Dahans' apartment, looking at all the smiling photos of Souf with tears in my eyes.
As I study the prayers for my bar mitzvah, Souf is always on my mind. It hurts that my treasured friend only lived for three years. But despite my terrible sadness, I realize that my life was made beautiful by knowing Souf. I became a better person for having a friend who was so brave in the face of certain death.
-- David Weiman, 14, Haifa, and Leslie Cohen,
Skipping Stones Magazine