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The Children of Summer: Introducing your kids to the world of bugs

Margaret Anderson's book, Children of Summer, is a work that will interest those who haven't had the pleasure of observing insects or itroducing their children to the world on the ground.


Margaret Anderson (no relation, 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 your children to insects - and entertain yourself - than Anderson's 95 pages of Fabre's observations.

From the chapter heading of "The Hermit of Serignan," with 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.

Jean Henri Casimir Fabre was a man with unquenchable curiosity and an intrepid explorer, but he 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 hours, and never be bored.

Years ago while conducting natural history field trips for OMSI, I told hundreds of young people that if they 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.

Over the years, that statement has come back to me time and time again from many of those kids (who are no longer kids, some even retired). 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 I/we saw..." One of those "kids" called late one night years ago and shot me clear through. He told me of being a captive in Vietnam, and how spiders and the myriad of other invertebrates - some that on feasted his blood - kept him going.

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 and spiders 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. Exasperating proof of that is when driving past Klamath Lake in summer, waves of gnats smear the windshield of your vehicle. If you happen to be at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California in late summer you will see huge flights of gnats playing on the wind, appearing as smoke, wafting from the tops of juniper trees. If you're a fisher-person of the high lakes you can see millions of gnats drifting by in shimmering clouds, wafting over the surface of streams and lakes, eventually drifting up into the towering trees.

Many years ago, while conducting an aerial survey of osprey nests around Wickiup and Crane Prairie Osprey Management Area in my Stitts Flutterbug, I happened to notice the delectable aroma of toasted almonds suddenly wafting through the cockpit.

Strange smells while flying at low altitudes usually cause fearful apprehension in pilots (there are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no, or at least very few, old bold pilots). But, then I relaxed when I noticed a whole bunch of smashed gnats smeared on my windshield, and put two and two together, duh: (a) smashed gnats on windshield means gnats on open exhaust of Flutterbug equals, (b) delicious aroma of toasted almonds.

To this day I cannot recall why I was carrying a small net in the back seat of the plane, but I leaned over and dragged it up front, opened the sliding cockpit cover and put it out into the slipstream. Everything went well, the net didn't self-destruct and the Flutterbug didn't mind the extra drag - it had plenty of its own.

I was flying about 40 feet over the trees (so I could count eggs and baby osprey), and therefore it was easy to spot another swarm of gnats about 100 feet dead ahead. I slowed the Flutterbug down (not too much, as it would fall out of the sky at 45 mph), aimed right at them, stuck the net out beyond the propeller arc, and "whump!" a whole bunch of gnats went into the net.

aI placed the net back on the seat with the wad of gnats in it, finished the osprey census, flew back to the Bend Airport, tied down the Flutterbug, took my gnats home and sautéed them in butter. Man, were they good! Even better than toasted almonds!

If you are one of those poor unfortunates who have never been hooked on the world of insects, or wish you could get your children into enjoying that limitless resource in Nature, go to the library's website: and order Children of Summer. Or head for your favorite bookstore, purchase Anderson's beautiful book, and share it with your children and grandchildren.

And wait 'til you try out the macro mode on insects with your new digital camera. Your world will never be the same! Ask Jannelle Orsillo; at 14 years of age, she brought home the most beautiful photograph of the tiny transparent wing hummingbird moth I have ever seen.

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