The bunny rabbit – harbinger of spring and legendary giver of holiday treats – takes center stage in many homes this time of year.
Among the most popular of the long-eared, short-tailed mammals is Peter Rabbit. Made famous by Beatrix Potter more than a century ago, he starred in a computer-animated film released earlier this year.
While Peter Rabbit made her famous before World War I, Beatrix was more than a commercial success. She was a noted naturalist and early land conservationist.
Biographer Linda Lear stated, “… at a time when nature was viewed as a commodity to be exploited, Beatrix Potter had the vision and environmental understanding to try to preserve a unique landscape … Her imaginative stewardship of the land is as much a part of her creative legacy as her art and stories for children.”
Children of every generation discover their place in the world through early exploration of their homelands. They interpret life through the environment that surrounds them. What better reason can we have for protecting natural resources? Nature is our home.
In Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, Lear wrote: “The part of the Lake District that Beatrix Potter chose as her own was not only physically beautiful, it was a place in which she felt emotionally rooted as a descendant of hard-working north-country folk … There was a realism in the countryside that nurtured a deep connection.”
Those words help to explain my affinity for Beatrix. I too live in a pastoral environment that has sentimental value to me. My three-acre property is part of a 100-acre parcel my grandparents purchased 75 years ago.
Over the years, the landscape changed: a barn torn down, new structures built, old trees removed and news ones planted, a natural gas pipeline placed beyond the boundaries of my property. What remained constant were wild strawberries, violets and dandelion that return each spring and distant mountains that provide incredible views of fall foliage and year-round sunsets. In every season, I find reasons to explore and to love nature in my home place.
Spring is a perfect season to get outside and enjoy nature. It is also a great time to read and share the tales of Beatrix Potter. Inspired by my reading last year, I purchased a Peter Rabbit egg hunt kit – signs featuring Beatrix’s famous illustrations attached to wooden stakes – to guide my favorite little ones to their holiday treats.
While researching last year’s Telly Award-winning documentary Working Class: Build and Grow Green, I was surprised to learn that Beatrix’s popular tales also influenced Rachel Carson, who is credited with changing public opinion about humans’ impact on the environment in the 1960s.
The effect of Peter Rabbit on the author of Silent Spring was described in Rachel Carson; Witness for Nature, also written by Linda Lear: “In fourth grade, Rachel wrote a story called “A Sleeping Rabbit.” Her cover illustration shows a plump white rabbit sitting with eyes closed in a chair beside a small round table on which are placed a candle and a book entitled Peter Rabbit. These stories and drawings reflect not only Rachel’s keen observation of bird and animal life but the kind of children’s literature she was reading and being read … Rachel’s favorites were the animal stories by Beatrix Potter, with their wonderfully detailed drawings, which she painstakingly imitated.”
Our children are keen observers and imitators. We can only imagine how the observations and connections to nature and the arts they experience today might lead them to make their own unique marks on the world in the years to come.
I encourage you to continue the legacy of Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson this spring holiday season by sharing nature, animals, art and literature with your children. You will bring joy to their lives and to yours.