Don’t you love the look on the face of a child when she’s introduced to another wonder of nature? My granddaughters had a rare opportunity recently to learn about raptors from Nikki Stamps, a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and master falconer who nurses these beautiful birds when they are in need of special care. As director of Bird in the Hand conservancy, Nikki has provided life-saving medical treatment and nursed literally hundreds of raptors back to health, so they can fly free again. She also gives demonstrations to audiences of all ages, hoping to inspire in others an appreciation for these magnificent birds of prey.
We grownups were as in awe as the children as Nikki brought out three different kinds of owls and talked to us about raptor biology and conservation. It reminds me that learning offers lifelong joy, and the more we learn the more we thirst for knowledge and understanding. Children take to learning instinctively. All they need from us is encouragement and moments that open the world to them.
As a little kid, my most prized possession was a hefty volume of Grimm’s illustrated fairy tales. I would find a quiet place away from my siblings—all nine of them—to immerse myself in worlds where the heroes always beat the villains. As I grew older, it wasn’t much of a leap to trade in fairy tales for tales of mystery and the macabre. On road trips at night, I would entertain my brothers and sisters with stories improvised from my own imagination. If I told the stories long enough for the youngest ones to fall asleep, I could sit in peace in the back of a quiet station wagon and watch the moon follow our car.
Decades later, I entertain my young granddaughters in the same way. When the oldest was not quite three, to relieve her boredom on the long drive to my house, I made up a story about fairies that live in a hollow oak tree in my yard. Now, at six, my eldest granddaughter, Eleanor, is both collaborator and critic. If she doesn’t like the turn of a plot, she’ll redirect it. If I meander into too much backstory, she admonishes: “Just tell the story, Grandma!”
She’s also a storyteller in her own right. At her request, we might spend a couple of hours working on a book of her creation. Page by page, Eleanor describes a scene and draws it, leaving space for me to scribe the words as she dictates them. Her first creation was about a girl who uses a magic wand from a friendly fairy to save her family from a terrible dragon. She called it “Eleanor Loves Apples.”
Her four-year-old sister, Virginia, is more of a poet. Here is her first poem, faithfully recorded by yours truly:
Hearts and Flowers
Hearts can’t bloom when they’re sad.
If hearts can bloom, there will be love.
If hearts can’t bloom, there will be no love.
You need love or the hearts will broke and the flowers will die.