I had arranged to take my five year old grandson Ethan on a steam train ride in the country. As we arrived at the rural station, the sight and sound of the engine dominated the scene, heaving and steaming like a panting bull. Ethan jumped from the car with excitement. But instead of running to look at the train, he headed for a patch of weeds growing by the car-park! Bemused, but captivated by Ethan’s enthusiasm, I dutifully followed. Together we crouched to see whatever there was to be seen. The longer you look, the more you see. What at first seemed nothing more than a clump of long grass gradually became transformed into a miniature green jungle of sleek stems, rough twigs, glossy leaves and exquisitely delicate flowers. Everything had a place and purpose in the nature of things. We watched spear grass climb our sleeves and made dandelion chains. ‘Wow Pop’, cried Ethan, ‘a ladybug!’ With all the loving care that only childlike fingers can muster, he picked up the ladybug and put it onto the back of his hand to study. All that the poor ladybug could see (I presume he has eyes) was a vast barren desert of skin. Right then we couldn’t have cared less about steam train rides, or what time it goes. Even less were we concerned about the stresses of the workaday world, or mortgage payments, or that there might be bad people in the world. At this moment time stood still while a small child and his grandfather become lost in the wondrous world of the ladybug. Momentarily I was back in my own childhood . . . Imagining, creating, wishing, dreaming, hoping, believing in magic and wondering . . . Wondering about things like ‘how high is the sky?’, ‘how come I can see the moon in daylight but not the stars?’ and ‘does the sea ever sleep?’ Somewhere along the way life’s priorities changed. Weed patches became ugly, ladybugs became invisible, trees inhibited housing developments and the sun became a source of cancer. But what really changes? Ethan lives in the same world as us adults and even a five year old boy has to live with pressures and stresses of having his life run by adults. The difference might simply be that while we adults worry about the past, present and the future, children like Ethan just enjoy living for the moment. Living for the moment opens up many fascinating, unexplored doors! Next time you see an acorn, think how that acorn contains everything needed to grow into a huge solid oak tree. All it needs is the right soil, reasonable watering and let nature take its course. Imagine for a moment when you were an embryo that size in your mother’s womb. Everything you needed to become a mature adult was contained in that embryo, including a bunch of skills, abilities and talents, a personality and lots of other highly scientific bits and pieces that make us who we are. It seems to me that we would be a sight better off if we did like the acorn and just let nature take its course. Take the example of young Ethan again. Think how spectacular his growth is in those first five years. He was lucky in that he was given ‘reasonable watering, feeding and nurturing’, so that by the time he began school he had developed much of his basic life skills in relation to things like reading, writing, physical co-ordination, motor skills, socialization, organization, negotiation (just ask mum and dad about that one!) conversation, relationships and, not the least of all, to love and be loved. All in just five years and all he did was play, eat and sleep! Once a child is let loose into the wider world, life’s harsh realities begin to take over. Like the words of an old song ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught’, society teaches children to be suspicious of people who are ‘different’, how important material things are to a happy life, the ‘right’ jobs for success, learning ‘to do unto others before they do it to you’ and how good people always come last. It’s not long before the ladybug is forgotten and the weeds trampled. Now of course we have terrorism, wars, riots, floods and disasters to contend with and all brought instantly to our attention in the comfort of our own homes while we eat dinner. Which adds more to the value of life . . . Wars or weeds and ladybugs? Where did nature and humanity so dramatically diverge? The inescapable fact that keeps wide open the doors of hope is that humanity is still, and always will be an intrinsic and inextricable part of nature. Just as the acorn grows into an oak and the weeds provide sanctuary for ladybugs, so the human embryo can grow and blossom into the role nature rightfully intended for us. Let’s keep a foot in the doorway to hope.