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Children in the woods - Analysis

barry lopez

The narrator of the essay Barry Hunston Lopez, born in 1945, was an explorer. His essays ,short stories and reviews and opinion pieces began appearing in 1966. He won the national book award for his non-fiction for 'Artic Dreams' (1980) and his 'Of Wolves and Men'(1978) was a National Book Award finalist. Lopez lives near Finn rock on the McKenzie river in western Oregon.

In the essay 'Children in the Woods' the narrator shares his experience with children in the context of life in woods. He also describes the advantages of growing up in a rural setting. The rainforest in western Oregon is the setting of the essay and it is described by the narrator in the third paragraph. It is described as a place undisturbed by human interference. Various kinds of animals and trees in the rainforest are described by the narrator to give us a beautiful image of the place. Other than the narrator, children, elderly women, historical remains of animals etc. become a part of the essay. The theme of the essay speaks about the importance of children growing up by understanding nature and forest. It is a theme that has got great importance in the present day, when children are not aware of nature, it's wonders and it's importance in our life.


The essay has an anecdotal beginning in which the narrator recalls an experience from his childhood, while walking with his mother. He observed a pattern formed by sunlight in a window pane and an elderly woman was very much happy to see the narrator as a child noticing these things in nature. He remembers this childhood incident as an incident that asks him to be responsible to children. Years later he lives in a rainforest in western Oregon with his wife. Both of them do not have children but he takes children from his neighbourhood to the woods. Initially he used to speak too much and give too much information about the forest to the children. Later he started speaking less and only gave answers to the curious questions raised by the children.

He then describes another experience that he had when he took children into the forest. They found a fragment of racoon's jaw bone in the woods. He encouraged the children to find whose jaw bone that was with the available clues. Children concluded that the jaw bone was of a racoon's. Then they kept the jaw bone back in the place without disturbing anything in the forest and moved on. The narrator says that it is important to teach children the various relationships in nature rather than teaching them the names of things in nature. Nature maintains itself through these associations and human interference is unnecessary. He also shares his worries related to the future of forest and nature.


Towards the end of the essay he shares another experience with us. He recalls an emotionally touched look that he saw from a child while walking in the woods on seeing the footprints of a heron. They were all making handprints on the mud close to those footprints. He felt as if the look on the child's face said that the child felt happiness and the importance of life in the woods. The concluding paragraph is slightly metaphorical. He says that the easiest way that leads us close to the forest and nature is learning names of things in nature. And the way that leads us close to the real essence of nature is silence. He also tells us that if we are speaking then it must only be to encourage the children and their senses. The role of the adult is to describe the pattern of relationships in nature as and when children seek help or show curiosity. He used the house and the cathedral to demonstrate how to inspire children, both by conversation and silence.

The overall structure of the essay is simple and conversational. The essay is a first person narrative and has an anecdotal beginning. The essay is autobiographical where we find the narrator describing his own experience and it reads like a story. Paragraphs in the essay are moderately short with simple sentences. After the sixth paragraph, the narrator has highlighted a sentence by forming a one line paragraph. Hyphens are also used in the essay by the narrator for the expansion of ideas. He had also used many science related words too to describe animal physiology. Questions are used in the article which make us anticipate the future and it also helps in connecting the present with the future. The author uses images like "house" and "cathedral" in the concluding paragraph. The essay 'Children in the Woods' on the whole imparts the message that nature is an open book from which children can learn a lot with their power of observation and help from grown up people.

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