Backyard Discoveries


With the school year almost over, families across the province are making last minute summer vacation plans. This year, my family is going to travel out west to visit my sister in Alberta, and see what I consider Canada's greatest natural treasure, The Rockies. While I am really looking forward to introducing our children to my favourite place in the Universe, last weekend I witnessed something that rivaled the majesty of The Rockies right in my own backyard.


My husband Brian had to replace a broken patio stone in our garden. I was busy working inside the house, when I noticed that he was down on his hands and knees examining the dirt where the old stone had been. I thought maybe he'd dropped something, so I stuck my head out the back door and asked if anything was wrong. He looked up at me with a childlike smile and said, "You have to take a look at this. It's the most fascinating thing I've ever seen."


I moved closer to see what had caught his attention so completely. At first it just looked like dirt that had been hard pressed after years under a concrete slab. Then I noticed a few cracks in the soil, and finally, as my vision focused, I saw what had mesmerized my husband. A red ant colony had taken up residence under the patio stone. When the stone was lifted off, it exposed their tiny perfect world to the great outdoors.


I knelt down beside my husband and watched as hundreds of tiny little ants scurried along a maze of tunnels to a small open area. Each ant picked up a little white object that looked like a grain of sand and rushed to the nearest hole in the earth where it disappeared. A few seconds later it returned, and started the process all over again.


"They're rescuing their eggs", Brian said.


I looked in amazement. He was right. What was even more fascinating was that the ants were carefully choosing between the undeveloped eggs and the larvae that had already started to wiggle. If a larva was mistakenly picked up, the ant would quickly drop it as soon as it started to move. It would then return to the mass of white dots until it found an egg.


Brian turned to me and said, "You know, with all our massed intelligence, with the incredible body of knowledge that we have developed over the centuries, with all our technology - we can't make a single one of those things."


He's right. Mountains may be majestic, the sunset over the Pacific may move us to tears, but no matter where we go on our summer vacation, there is no place like our own backyards to appreciate the miracle of life.





* If you're looking for environmentally friendly activities for your children this summer, look no further that Earth Day Canada's award-winning EcoKids website ( ). Children can go on a mission to help protect the planet by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, become a detective and help solve The Case of the Warming Planet or play other "cool" climate change games.



* School may soon be out for the summer, but Federal Environment Minister David Anderson wants you to do some homework. In an open letter to environmental educators, Anderson wrote,


"Over the last eight months, I have received letters from close to one hundred environmental educators across Canada. Most of these letter writers have asked that Environment Canada enhance its work on environmental education and sustainability. More particularly, they have requested that we develop a national strategy on environmental education and sustainability in the spirit of Chapter 36 of Agenda 21: Promoting Education, Public Awareness and Training, as requested by the United Nations in 1992.


In order for us to develop such a national strategy, I am convinced that we need to hear from environmental educators and others who have an interest in promoting education, awareness and training with respect to sustainability. For this reason, we are engaging in an on-line consultation through Environment Canada’s web site, the Green Lane. The web site for this event will be launched on June 12 and can be accessed at"


If you don't have access to the Internet, your local public library probably does. If not, copies of Environmental Education Questionnaire and/or Background Documents on Environmental Education are available by calling 1-800-668-6767 or sending an e-mail to