Nature’s Crayons

By Anita Sanchez

There’s a chem­i­cal that is found in every green plant – every tree, grass blade, bush, cac­tus, moss, rose­bush, what­ev­er. It’s called chloro­phyll, a green pig­ment that absorbs just the right wave­length of sun­light to jump­start the com­plex chem­i­cal process, pho­to­syn­the­sis, where­by plants make food. Chloro­phyll enables plants to trans­form air, sun­light, and water into sug­ars that nour­ish the plant and any­thing that eats it. Chloro­phyll is, real­ly, the basis of life on this planet.

Chloro­phyll is also the stuff that puts grass stains on the knees of your pants. It’s a pig­ment, remem­ber, which is basi­cal­ly paint. It’s the rea­son plants all over the world are green and not pink or blue. And it occurred to me one day, as I was fruit­less­ly try­ing to scrub the indeli­ble stains from my favorite jeans — could this remark­ably per­sis­tent green col­or­ing some­how be used as an art material?

So I try it. A hand­ful of clover and dan­de­lion leaves, rubbed firm­ly on white paper, leave a star­tling­ly bright green stripe. Nature’s cray­on. Hmmm. This is sort of fun. I exper­i­ment with oth­er wild pig­ments. Yel­low dan­de­lion flow­ers give a sun­ny yel­low stripe. Rasp­ber­ries yield psy­che­del­ic pur­ple. Wild grapes pro­vide a rich plum col­or. Blue­ber­ries are dis­ap­point­ing: just beige goop. I haven’t exper­i­ment­ed with apples yet.

Why, you may ask, is this enter­tain­ing but triv­ial idea so impor­tant, wor­thy of a newslet­ter arti­cle? Because, for chil­dren these days, nature is some­thing you Just Don’t Touch. Dur­ing field trips, when I ask stu­dents what they think the most impor­tant rule of the Arbore­tum is, they one and all cho­rus, Don’t touch any­thing!!!” Think about it — wasn’t that the rule on every field trip you ever went on? You see with your eyes, boys and girls. Please don’t touch!”

But kids need to touch the real world. They need to pick grass blades, and fool around with dan­de­lions, and count the petals on daisies to dis­cov­er if he loves me or he loves me not.” They need to get their fin­gers stained with wild grapes and rasp­ber­ries and get wet and mud­dy and grass-stained. But it’s get­ting hard­er to per­suade kids to do these things. Fear of germs, ticks, rabies, germs, strangers, germs .… Kids don’t mess around much with nature any more. But there’s some­thing about crayons that no kid can resist.

So, par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts and uncles: this sum­mer, give it a try. On some rainy day or dur­ing a dull pic­nic, get a big sheet of paper. Grab some clover and dan­de­lion leaves and paint that chloro­phyll all over the place. Pick some dan­de­lions and paint bold yel­low suns. Exper­i­ment with some oth­er col­ors, too — pur­ple lilacs, red tulip petals, orange day lilies. There’s a whole Cray­ola box out there along the trails and in the gardens.

Summer 2015

Volume 33 , Number 3

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