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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

The Science of Recess by Janet Trull

I am a shy nine-year-old girl with one friend.  Wendy is bold and full of ideas.  She is bored with the games in the playground.  Skipping, tossing hockey cards, playing bouncy ball.  They are for kids.  Wendy is drawn to the activities of the older boys, so we shadow them at a safe distance for months until the day that David King finds a dead squirrel on the curb by the Alder Street gate.

Roadkill, he says, lifting it by the tail and disappearing behind the dumpster.  With his jack knife, he slits the squirrel’s belly and the guts spill out.   David takes us on a quick tour of the cadaver using the tip of his blade as a pointer.  Lungs.  Stomach.  A long twisty string of intestines.  Reproductive system.  The boys laugh too loud and David silences them with a look.  He scratches a little hole in the dirt and tosses the heart into it.  Out of respect, he says.

The bell rings, but nobody moves.  We are watching David pull on tendons that make the squirrel appear to be waving at us.  Then, he tucks the little body under a bush, and wipes his hands on his jeans.

I wonder if the maggots will get to it?  Wendy asks.

Good question, David says.  Come back at afternoon recess and we’ll check.

And just like that, we are part of the gang.

We examine the squirrel through stages of decomposition until only bones and teeth remain.  Then someone finds a spider with a big egg sac and we move to the far end of the field by the long jump pit.  We catch insects and offer them to mama spider and watch her mummify them.

Wendy and I find an ant hill.  We present it to David who diverts the workers with some Dad’s Cookie crumbs.   As a reward, he sneaks us into the boy’s washroom to examine Andrew McLeod’s poo.

See the corn, he says?  How come it don’t get digested?

We offer suppositions.

Then, disaster strikes.  As we squat around a little grass fire that David has created with a magnifying glass, some goody-goody runs to tell a teacher.  David gets the strap.  We get a warning.

Our teacher tells us to stay away from David King.  He’s a bad influence, she says.  He can’t even read.

But he’s smart, Wendy says.   I only talk back to teachers in my heart, but Wendy is not afraid of anyone.

He’s trouble, the teacher says.  I don’t want to have to call your parents.

It takes stealth and bravery to study the chemistry of mud and the biology of worms and the physics of hurtling snowballs when there are teachers sneaking around who have unrealistic expectations for safety and cleanliness and intelligence.

But curiosity and wonder prevail.  There is much to learn.

Janet Trull is from Ancaster, ON

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