From Vicki McCawley:
A Letter To My Harford County Town:
Dear Bel Air,
As a local resident, I wish to express my disappointment that you will be hosting another ‘frog and turtle race’ at the Independence Day celebration in town. Every July fourth, in an effort to bring the community together, we find children gathering on a dry surface clumsily handling these living creatures. The scene appears charming, with people clapping and cheering, but this event is not all that innocent.
For the species involved, it’s a terrifying experience. These are animals who have been captured and removed from their natural habitats. They have been rallied to ‘play’ in the hot summer sun. They are goaded and screamed at in an effort to make them move across a ‘finish line’. In an online video supplied by The Baltimore Sun, a man who appears to be the father of two young girls can be heard telling them, “It’s your job to scare ’em…scare ’em, scare ’em!” This ordeal is traumatizing, and it subjects the animals to harm regardless of how carefully the contestants try to manage them.
Aside from the animals’ welfare, this event teaches the children involved that other species are ours to trifle with. Rather than educating the participants in a way that would make them good stewards of the earth, this ritual imparts the idea that exploiting a sentient creature for entertainment is acceptable and fun. We should be training our youngest to respect all living things who hop, crawl, or run beneath our feet. We should be teaching our children to respect nature by not disturbing it.
Please let this be the beginning of a new era. Perhaps we could have a race where the children simulate the hop or crawl of our indigenous frogs and turtles. Maybe we could have wildlife leaders share some knowledge, after all, America is home to a wealth of nature. The children could leave the celebration with a newfound understanding of how to observe and care for our country’s precious treasures. The crowd could carry home with them the notion that freedom, in all the ways it can be applied, belongs to everyone, and I’m certain that with a little nudge, our children could appreciate that even the smallest among us deserve dignity. Wouldn’t this be a more beneficial experience?
For decades you have hosted the Turtle Derby and the Great Bel Air Frog Jumping Contest, and yes, I understand the benefit of tradition. A quick glance at Mirriam-Webster tells me that tradition is a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, or society for a long time. Traditions can be comforting, educational, valuable.
But I also know that information is valuable. I have been enlightened by scholarly research that informs me that we are perceived as predators by the very animals who are invited to these races. The animals feel threatened and completely vulnerable in our presence. Given the fact that there were 178 entries in the frog jumping contest and 140 turtles entered in the derby in 2013, that’s a lot of trifling with nature. With the swelling number of participants, it’s time The Bel Air Independence Day Committee Inc., which hosts the events, becomes enlightened to the facts, as well.
Most of us realize that Earth is feeling the strain of our footprint. Choices we make every day, even the little ones, weigh in. In this biosphere we call home, a balance must be maintained. A change in one small piece of the chain can have a devastating effect upon our future. Everything matters here, the frogs and the turtles, every living thing. So, to treat nature with reckless abandon is foolish and damaging.
Bel Air is a humble town in the heart of Harford County, Maryland. We are home to roughly 10,000 citizens. We are just a modest part of the more than 300 million people who populate our country. But decisions made by every small group form the significant whole. No group is too small to elicit a change, for better or for worse. How we behave in our town matters.
Our children are so impressionable. I hope you will consider that these children in Shamrock Park on July 4th–our future generation–will hold Earth’s destiny in their hands some day. While their hands are tiny, while they are learning, let’s not give them permission to abuse it. They need to learn as early as possible that treading gently upon our planet is the wisest choice.
Thank you for your consideration.