The Lesson My Dad Gave My Seventh Grade Class in 1973


By Neva Knott

Full moon tonight. That magestic golden orb shines through the still-bare boughs of the maple tree just at the edge of my yard. This morning, even, while I was walking the dogs at dawn, I saw her still in the sky, too full to move on to the other side of the world. Since, she has made her rotation–now she sits above the field to my northeast. This morning, the paler version of herself sat to the southwest.

My dog is on the deck, listening to the frog orchestra that began a week or two ago. The field floods in the spring rain, bringing these amphibians who, night after star-bright night, vocalize their passionate search for a mate and signal the change in temperature as we shift toward spring.

This is the second spring my dog and I have lived in this house. Each evening I’ve heard the frog-song, I’ve thought of my father. Of a particular memory of him. When I was a very little girl, three or four, we lived on the shores of Chambers Lake in Washington. Across the lake, coyotes would roam along the railroad tracks. They howled, and on those nights, my father would awaken me, wrap me in a blanket, and carry me to the porch to listen. To nature, to the universe of which we are all part. This memory, in my adult mind’s eye, has become emblemic of the legacy my father left me; he died when I was 15, but before passing instilled in me a deep understanding of the connection between humans and the natural world.

The frog’s melodies tonight are the beating of my father’s heart as he held me close, listening to the coyotes howl.

In the 1970’s my father worked for the United Nations, for the Food and Agricultural Organisation. He was posted in Bangkok, Thailand. I attended seventh grade at the International School of Bangkok. On September 17, 1973, my father came to school to give a lecture to my class. I have his notes to share with you here. He took care to put his concepts into the context of Asian culture and the Thai terrain. They’re written in pencil, so the images might not yield the information. I’ve transcribed it, as follows:

“Man and the Natural Environment.”


Page 1–Part A (5 minutes), Part B (15 minutes)

A. What is the environment? (5 minutes)  A smiling face on the left; a frowning face on the right, surrounded by arrows pointing at it

B. The Natural Environment (15 minutes)

1. Physical

1. High mountains

2. High plateau

3. Low hills

4. River valley deltas

(there is no number 5)

6. Continental-islands

2. Climatic

1. Extreme seasons/snow

2. Definite seasons/low rainfall

3. Wet and dry seasons/monsoons

4. Poor soil in the hills

5. Good soil in valleys and deltas

3. Plants

1. Seasonal–need food storage

2. Grasslands–not much variety

3. Swamp or wet land plants and grasses–broad leaf fruit bearing trees

4. Animals

1. Yak–long-haired cow

2. Buffalo, caribou–short-haired cow

3. Horse–grassland

4. Elephant–jungle

(In the margin he’d bracketed Plants and Animals with a note, Biologic or Biotic)

Scan 1

Page 2 (15 minutes)

C. Influences

1. Houses–for which he’d drawn a house on stilts, a two-story house, and a   tent (labeled, “tent”)

2. Food



(A side note reads “shifting ag. and paddi” and another reads  “dryland crops”)

3. Clothing

1. Protection–Tibetian Hat (picture drawn and annotated “fur, leather”); Thai Hat (picture drawn and annotated “plant”)

Yak hair and wool

Silk & cotton

D. Travel

1. Horses–fast

2. Yak–slow

3. Caribou–slow

4. Elephant–big, lots of food

5. Boats–Klong–outrigger

E. Gardens and Art

1. House in Garden–Inc. animals

2. Garden in House–Inc. animals

(An arrow points from the margin with the word “cities” at its end)

F. This shows we need nature

Scan 2

Page 3 (5 minutes)

On the left is the smiling face again. Above it, the word “Good.” Under it, this list:

Clean air

Clean water

Green scene


On the right is the frowning face. Above it, the word “Bad.” Under it, this list:

Dirty air

Dirty water

No green

No wildlife but rats

At the end of his notes, the following ideas are circled, with an arrow pointing them up the page:

Main cause–too many people

Main cause–ignorance

Main cause–desire for wealth now

Next to this list is a face with a squiggly mouth that means “confusion.” On each side of the face is a question mark.

The last bit of information:

The Warning Bells–

Loss of wildlife

Loss of Green

(On this part of the note page, it is clear my father pressed his pencil hard into the paper.)

He ended the presentation with this question:

If they can’t live–can man? Around it, four question marks.

These are the notes of the man who instilled in me my love of nature.

My dad’s schematic of “Man and the Natural Environment” is the same as the ecologist’s schematic today. And his ending question is the biggest question at hand.



These photographs depict some of his concepts. All are from wikicommons. The first is a yak, the second a Tibetian man in a traditional Tibetian hat, and the last Thais working in a rice paddy in Thai hats.

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