Connecting the Dots

The Power of First Impressions

Posted on: April 24th, 2020

Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #3

First impressions, first experiences are compelling. The first time a child sees a wild animal, let’s say, a porcupine, it will leave an impact that can last a lifetime. I’ve had the pleasure of observing first impressions several times already at Lindsay. A child looks wide-eyed at this strange creature, much larger than expected, wobbling along, stopping at the sight of a gentle hand in front of its bulbous nose and small eyes. The animal sits on its rump, a prickly, paddle-like tail behind it. It raises its front paws with the large black claws and begs for a treat. It gets it, and it starts to munch loudly on the morsel. The woman’s voice continues. The porcupine’s name is Penelope, Penny, she says. She talks about the redwood forests, about habitats, and whatnot. The child doesn’t quite hear the words, just the voice, eyes glued to the spiky shape, and his imagination running rampant. How would it feel to touch it?

The boy stands in a jagged line of other kids and adults, slowly approaching this revelation of the animal he sees for the first time. He is jittery, can’t stand still, one step forward, one back, forward again, back. Turns around to look at his mom with a smile frozen on his face. The tension is unbearable. Finally, it’s his turn. He pays attention briefly to the instructions. “Don’t run your hand further than this,” the nice lady says, pointing at Penny’s neck. “And don’t go back up the other direction. You’ll get pricked by the quills, and that would hurt!

The small hand reaches out, gently lands on Penny’s nose, and softly slides it down over her head and towards her neck. He does this a couple of times. The hair feels rough and soft at the same time. There’s a smell, like body odor coming from Penny. “That’s her natural scent,” the lady says. “It gets stronger when it is time to find a mate.” The boy looks are Penny’s eyes, shiny, attentive. Penny pauses her munching for a second and makes eye contact, sniffs the air, and goes back to her treat. The boy’s smile tells it all, a wide grin of delight and a lasting memory.

Four months later, I talked to the boy’s mom and asked her what he remembered the most. She said that the impression was deep, so much that he printed photos of the event and put them in the refrigerator. He learned and remembered about the quills and the texture. But most of all, he associated the experience with the animal as well as the persons that made it possible. This warmed my heart. One never knows how much impact one has on others.

First impressions and experiences are portals through which our minds transport us into entirely new fields of knowledge and exploration. My early first encounter with a butterfly’s chrysalis completely changed my life. My interest in insects exploded from that day on, and it has followed me all my life. It shaped my career in ecology and entomology, my work in conservation, and my love for telling my insect stories—especially of midges, those tiny, aquatic, and fascinating non-biting mosquitoes—every chance I get. I often joke, “I don’t often talk about midges, but when I do, grab a chair…” the truth is, that’s no joke at all.

Lindsay provides first impressions and life-changing encounters every day, to children and adults. Not only seeing a porcupine or an own up close for the first time, but touching a snake, watching honeybees doing their dance telling the other bees where the flowers are, or seeing and hearing a bald eagle do her high-pitched and unforgettable call. These moments of intense pleasure, of amazement, surprise, disbelief, and curiosity, are more relevant to our development than we can imagine. They are formative moments, where our love for wildlife becomes a real thing that can take hold of us and change us for the better. These moments lead to more knowledge, empathy, understanding, and eventually to action in favor of protecting wildlife and their homes.

We live for these moments, for this mission, and this outcome. We miss our public, the children, the families, and our volunteers and staff. We will be here, ready for you, when this awkward time is over. I hope you help us continue our work and support it, as well as share your encounters with wildlife with us.

Carlos de la Rosa
Executive Director

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