How We Connect with the Earth



Center for Media Literacy

This article originally appeared in Issue# 51


By Tyrone Cashman


“It takes only one summer for a child of the right age to bond with the natural world, to know in her bones that the world is alive, and wild and kin to her. There is a kind of imprinting that either takes place, or doesn’t, in a girl or boy before the age of 10 or 11.”



“When, for the first time, a nine-year-old barefoot boy and a wild crawfish encounter each other by surprise in a cold spring creek, there is nothing like it in the world. The boy’s life is changed. And if he explores this watery world and the woods that surround it for the length of a long summer, he will have taken the whole ancient biosphere into his soul, never to be forgotten. The imprint is for a lifetime.”


This happened to me when I was 10 years old and lived on the farm for 3 months with my grandparents.  Small farms then were truly mixed, not the definition of mixed today.  Now it means a mixture of pasture grasses or grain.  Then it meant: cows, pigs, horses, chickens and ducks all supported by corn, oats to feed the stock.  Grandfather didn’t even grow soybeans in 1950.  There were daily jobs such as milking, cleaning the cowbarn and pumping the water trough by hand, egg collecting and wiping, not to mention the heavy tractor work of ploughing, disking, tilling and cultivating for weed removal. Grandfather and Grandmother made a good living then from only 65 acres in Indiana west of Indianapolis.  Summer nights were warm and filled with fireflys [called lightening bugs] and a chorus of insects with a strong cricket and katydid section.  Of course the mossies carved you up like a Sunday roast but sitting on the front porch in the twilight watching the spiders spin, bats swoop and listening to the nightjars was magical.  Who nowadays has learned just the right pressure to ease a night crawler out from its hole as it lies innocently with a mating invitation?  As James Whitcomb Riley said: “O the days gone by! O the days gone by!”


Here are a few lines from the dearly beloved poet of Indiana:



The Days Gone By



O the days gone by! O the days gone by!

The apples in the orchard, and the pathway through the rye;

The chirrup of the robin, and the whistle of the quail

As he piped across the meadows sweet as any nightingale;

When the bloom was on the clover, and the blue was in the sky,

And my happy heart brimmed over in the days gone by.


In the days gone by, when my naked feet were tripped

By the honey-suckle’s tangles where the water-lilies dipped,

And the ripples of the river lipped the moss along the brink

Where the placid-eyed and lazy-footed cattle came to drink,

And the tilting snipe stood fearless of the truant’s wayward cry

And the splashing of the swimmer, in the days gone by.


O the days gone by! O the days gone by!

The music of the laughing lip, the luster of the eye;

The childish faith in fairies, and Aladdin’s magic ring—

The simple, soul-reposing, glad belief in everything,—

When life was like a story, holding neither sob nor sigh,

In the golden olden glory of the days gone by.


Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993)