Local View: Look to moths, maples, nature for lessons on patience

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Charity McGaughey of Duluth leads a group of hikers along a section of the Superior Hiking Trail in Jay Cooke State Park. Boardwalks are placed in low areas along the trail to protect wetlands. Bob King /

In a recent amble through the woods, I was suddenly captivated by the thought of the easy rhythm and patience of the forest.

I was barely 20 years old when I first read Fulghum’s advice in his essay, “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” but its simplicity resonated with me. His first two rules of life are “share everything” and “play fair.” Young children inevitably discover that sharing and playing fair takes patience. Once those tenets are agreed upon, tension disappears as all involved in a game come to realize that, “Indeed, I may have to wait, but my turn will come around again.”

No discredit to Mr. Fulghum, but long before 1986 the creatures of the natural world unraveled the secret of patience, which accounts for that feeling of ease and calmness found within the forest.

I often observe the habits and lifestyles of woodland creatures and wonder what rules they follow. Amphibians have a predictable schedule, an order as to when and who migrates to wetlands in order to lay their eggs. The early risers are the salamanders. They start their journey with snow on the ground just as the edges of the ponds start to melt. Did they draw nature’s short straw, grumbling and complaining as they placed those tiny feet on the cold forest floor? Or are they anxious to arise and get the new season started? Following the amphibians, the wood frogs and the peepers take their turns. And then the multitude of other species that reside in the Northland. Somehow each knows nature’s rules that indicate when it is their turn.

Sometimes species reside in the same area and compete for the same meal. Moths and butterflies look and behave in similar fashions. Both species sustain themselves mostly on nectar from flowering plants. Most butterflies feed during the day, and most moths feed at night. Scientists have learned that nocturnally blooming flowers tend to be more fragrant than their diurnal counterparts.


This symbiosis between the nocturnal flowers and the moths may be nature’s way of following another one of Fulghum’s rules: When you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together. You help me, I’ll help you. We’ll both get what we need.

Even trees seem to have things worked out. Maples are silent all winter, waiting. Come spring, they begin to take their turn. The water that was frozen in the ground throughout winter starts to thaw and make its way up the trunks of the trees, producing the sweet sap that is the heart of maple syrup. And in late spring, birches take their turn, producing their own sap. Year after year, just as the end of the maple sap run decreases, the birches gird up their loins and start their run.

Nature has taught me that everything has its time and gets its turn. We all have our time to shine or produce or gather. I might have to wait to get my dinner. I might have to pull an all-nighter. Nature has taught me that I might have to be the early riser and, like my salamander friends, be the first to risk crawling out and facing some discomfort like placing my feet on a cold floor. All I need to know I learned from nature.

Lori Danz is a science teacher at Superior High School and the Superior school district’s school forest coordinator.

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Lori Danz

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