The day broke brilliant and warm in the small village where Zoe lived with her Mother. Zoe’s Father had died when she was very small. Her Ma had told her how it had happened, but she always forgot. Or maybe she just didn’t want to remember. Today was one of those days, because today was a special day. Today a special person was coming to visit the little school where Zoe and the other kids went everyday (except on weekends) to learn about all sorts of interesting things.
Most kids didn’t like school, but Zoe loved it! She loved learning her A, B, C’s and singing songs and especially her wonderful teacher Miss M (she had a very long name, so she told the children to call her Miss M to make it easier). But most of all Zoe loved to learn about the earth and it’s creatures.
Miss M would bring out books and pictures of animals like turtles and deer and tell the kids all about them. She would talk about the trees, flowers and the sky. Sometimes Zoe would forget she was in school and float away on the back of a dolphin. Miss M would have to say, “Zoe, where are you, are you here in this class?” But Miss M would have a big smile on her face when she said this to Zoe because she knew that Zoe was daydreaming about all the wonderful animals. Miss M told Zoe she had a big imagination, which meant she could make lots of stories in her head.
Today Miss M had invited a special person to class to talk about the earth. He was a scientist! He knew lots about animals and the world. Zoe was so excited she could hardly eat her breakfast. But Ma made her do it so she wouldn’t get hungry later. After she gobbled it down, Zoe ran to school down the dirt street, kicking up dust as she flew. Zoe was thinking about all the animals the man would talk about and said out loud to herself, “Maybe the man will even talk about lions?” She often spoke to herself because she had no brothers or sisters and Ma was usually busy.
As she burst into the classroom, she looked around to see if the man was there. He had not arrived yet and Miss M told her to be patient. Zoe was never very patient and wiggled and squiggled in her seat until finally, sometime later, she noticed a very tall person with a dark moustache enter the room.
“This, children, is Mr. Goodfoot and he’s here to talk to us about the earth, animals and conservation.” Zoe knew all the words except the last big one, the one that began with a “C”. And Zoe thought the man had a very funny name. It had two words put together.
The kids hushed while Mr. Goodfoot got his stuff ready–he had pictures that he flashed on a screen. He showed wolves, whales, coyotes, hawks and more. His moustache moved up and down while he talked about how there was no more land for these animals to hunt for their food, how the ocean is dirty and the air thick with smog. The more Zoe listened, the sadder she became.
Mr. Goodfoot said humans were doing this to the animals, that humans were taking away the places for animals to live and have their babies and grow. Zoe could not understand why this was true? She did not hurt these animals, she loved them. How could she be hurting them? She didn’t see people taking the land, they only lived in their houses. Zoe became very confused.
“Conservation,” said Mr. Goodfoot, “means we must take care of these animals, the earth, the water and the air, or we will have nothing left, not even animals. Some kinds of animals,” he continued seeming to look right at Zoe, “are already gone, like the dodo bird.” The room fell silent for a moment. He finished his talk and then the class ended like always.
But Zoe was not the same after his talk. What had started as a beautiful day, was now bleak and dark. Zoe was sad and did not know what to do. The animals she loved were leaving the earth and Mr. Goodfoot seemed to blame her too. Afterall, he had looked right at her! He said all humans were hurting the earth, and Zoe knew she was maybe one of them. Zoe headed home feeling heavy inside, like she was carrying a big stone in her backpack.
Zoe lay in bed unable to sleep. Tossing and turning that night Zoe tried to think of what she could do. As a child, Zoe felt she was too young and it might be too late anyway. Zoe thought, “I must figure out what I can do to stop it or there will be no animals left when I grow up.” She finally drifted off to sleep filled with dreams of animals calling out to her to help them.
The next day was Saturday, so there was no school. Zoe decided to visit the village elder. This meant that this person had lived for many, many years. She was a very smart woman, wrinkled and stooped. No-one knew just how old she really was, but many sought her wisdom because she had lived in the village since way before most people could remember.
With drooping shoulders and a heavy heart, Zoe walked along the village streets to the home of Ranela.
Quiet knocks on Ranela’s door brought scuffling footfalls. The door creaked open and an old woman answered, her warm smile greeted Zoe to enter the little house. “Hello Zoe my dear, what brings you to my home,” said the tiny woman with the long white braid?
With teary eyes and sorrowful words, Zoe murmured, “A man came to my school and told us that we are all killing the animals on earth. I am sad because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. What can I do?”
Ranela gently brought Zoe to sit on her comfortable chairs and together they bowed their heads in silence for some moments. Zoe looked up and saw that Ranela seemed have gone to a faraway place as Zoe watched the old woman’s face. Her breathing was steady and slow. Zoe was trying to be patient, but it was always so hard to be quiet and wait for a grownup.
Finally Ranela looked up. “We are all interconnected like a spider’s web Zoe,” she sighed, “when something happens at one end, it is felt at the other. When humans plow the land to grow wheat to feed cows that they raise for meat, the land is wasted and could have been used to grow food for humans instead. When humans drive thousands of cars that need fuel, and then a ship breaks carrying the oil that makes gas, the oil gets dumped in the ocean. Then much of the marine life is killed. Everything we do, everything we need, everything we touch has a reaction in nature,” said Ranela tiredly.
Zoe sat for a minute. What Ranela seemed pretty complicated, but she thought she might understand. Finally, Zoe was ready to speak. “Is it like the time that I forgot to shut the door tight and Buster got out and ran away? Ma was mad because he came home and was hurt.” “Yes, something like that,” said Ranela softly, “you weren’t careful so an animal you loved suffered . Both your Mother and Buster were hurt because you did not remember to shut the door. So you see, everything we do may change another being’s life.”
Zoe thought about these words. It seemed scary that little things she did could hurt someone or something else. “But how can I change these things, I’m only a child,” Zoe asked jumping up from her seat feeling frustrated and frightened?
“Even a child can make a difference,” said Ranela calmly with her deep blue eyes staring into Zoe’s. “You can make choices: you can stop eating animals and by your example others may too. You can study as you grow older to help the earth and all its creatures, go to school to be a scientist like that man or a teacher. And every day you can try to make very little garbage and think hard about what you want, what toys you really need. With everything you do: always remember that is has a consequence somewhere else in this world,” Ranela said firmly!
“What does consequence mean?” puzzled Zoe. Ranela looked carefully in Zoe’s young eyes and said, “Whatever you do may change something somewhere else: to an animal, to our water, to the air and to Mother Earth”. So think wisely in all you do,” Ranela smiled.
With this, Zoe thanked the elder and started on her way home filling with new ideas and more hope. Zoe thought that if she grew up to be someone who would help the animals maybe they wouldn’t all die. Zoe began to think of all the things she could do RIGHT NOW to help her animal friends that spoke to her in the dream.
She could stop eating meat right away because she never really liked it anyway. Toys were silly and they usually broke and made more garbage to fill the earth, so she would tell Ma to save her money. And maybe she could start teaching her Ma, the kids in school and other people about ‘consequences’ and maybe, just maybe things would start changing.
Zoe knew this might be hard, and she would have to be patient, but she was brave. She could learn to be patient, her animal friends needed her to be. So with a deep breath she said out loud, maybe even loud enough for someone else to hear, “Someone has to do it, so why not me?” And with that, Zoe skipped back home feeling just like a kangaroo.