I’m standing in front of an empty cage at the Conservancy of SouthWest Florida—a tiny gem of a place doing its tiny part to help preserve what’s left of nature in that part of the world. They also have a facility to rehabilitate wild animals that have been hurt, mostly in traffic accidents. Those that can’t be released live out their days in large outdoor pens or cages and serve as noble ambassadors on the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.
So along comes a grandmotherly woman, young boy in tow, rushing through, no time to consider how the animals got there, no time for conversation; she merely points, bird, bird, turtle, bird.
Next to me, in front of the empty cage, the boy pauses; the grandmother tugs to keep him moving.
“There’s nothing in there to see,” she says and the boy, reluctantly, allows himself to be tugged away.
And I think: this is how it happens, this is how we train children ‘to see’, to look only for the feature attraction, the shiny, the obvious, the Disney version of things. God forbid they should be allowed to think, to imagine for themselves. In fact, the empty cage contains sand, shadows, pebbles, a small tree, bits of wood… but it’s all been called nothing and the boy has learned something from that.
I hang around the empty cage for awhile, looking at the tree and the sand; evetually another child comes along. He asks his mother what the sign says.
“Unoccupied,” she answers. “There’s nothing in there, let’s go.”
The child looks at the cage, then up at me looking at the cage, then turns to his mum and says, “But something might come into it.”
Even she can’t argue with that.
Still, she takes his hand and they move on—in search, I guess, of the ever elusive ‘something’…