A Leech Escaping a Container
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, PhotographerIf I were to ask you to craft a list of words that represent your connection to the natural world, which words immediately pop into your mind? Of course, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.” Yet, Brooke Smith published her book “The Keeper of Wild Words” in response to learning that nature words she loved were replaced in the Oxford Junior Dictionary for words like chatroom and voicemail.
Grandmother Mimi tells young Brook, “If we don’t use words, they can be forgotten. And if they’re forgotten, they disappear.”
That voice was the person who gave me this beautiful book, fellow Edith Bowen Laboratory School teacher Shannin Kishbaugh. I invited her with me to talk about wild words.
What words top your list? I would say calm, peaceful, freedom, exploration, and wonder.
My list evolves, but it always has wapiti and mica schist. It includes caddisfly casings on river rocks and cumulonimbus clouds in the sky. I love red-winged blackbirds I saw this morning in the phragmites along the roadside, curlycup gumweed I discovered at Hardware Ranch, stinging nettle walking the banks as a child with my father just off Fireclay Avenue in Murray, and hoodoos in Goblin Valley.
My most recent word is leech. Shannin, when you hear that, what are your words? Uncertainty, fear, dirty, slimy, old documents and uses in medicine. I’ve become a lover of water bugs this year, but still leeches feel extreme.
Well, those are very different words from your nature words. Not long ago at a conference cleverly titled “In Mud” about place-based education for young children, I stood with teachers from Washington state to Washington D.C. While the goal was discussing developing nature inquiry projects based on interest of the students, a colleague saw a dark blob on another’s boot and for the remainder of the workshop, we as educators huddled in a circle playing with the leech like children. It slithered and reached; we gazed in wonder and some apprehension. I realized I’d never spent time appreciating a leech.
There are lots of leech species, including some found only in Utah. They begin life in a cocoon which surprised me, they have suckers that give them the reputation as selfish parasites even though they don’t all suck blood, and they play an important role in the food chain. This spring when we took our first graders out again to explore what lives in the water, this time to Benson Marina of Cutler Reservoir, our students canoed past an osprey nest, captured the cattails in watercolor, and even observed a leech clinging to our guest scientist Trip Armstrong’s thumb. As the students worked, your idea was to collect the words, their exclamations, and offer them back to them to use in writing list poetry.
Let’s end with some of the nouns, adjectives and verbs from their list: “paddle whirlpools, dunking ducks, pelican peace, and ripple reflections.” And of course, “little leech. It was the best feeling. Happiness all around me.”
We are Shannon Rhodes and Shannin Kishbaugh, and we are wild about Utah words.
Images: Canoeing – Courtesy & Copyright Shannin Kishbaugh, Photographer
Leeches – Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes
Wild About Utah Pieces by Shannon Rhodes, https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/
Andrews, Candice Gaukel. (2009). Nature Words on the Brink of Extinction. https://www.nathab.com/blog/nature-words-on-the-brink-of-extinction/
Black, Riley. (2021). New species of leech found in Utah. https://nhmu.utah.edu/articles/2023/05/new-species-leech-found-utah
Govedich, Fredric R. and Bonnie Bain. (2005). All About the Leeches of Montezuma Well. https://www.nps.gov/moca/learn/nature/upload/montezuma_well_leeches.pdf
Morse, Susan. A Few Words for Nature Nerds. https://www.fws.gov/story/few-words-nature-nerds
Smith, Brooke. (2020). The Keeper of Wild Words. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. https://www.chroniclebooks.com/products/the-keeper-of-wild-words
U.S. Department of the Interior. (2020). The Conservation Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. https://www.doi.gov/blog/conservation-legacy-theodore-roosevelt
Utah State University Extension. Key to Aquatic Macroinvertebrates in Utah. https://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/macrokey/no-shell/worm-like/