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Please Touch

please touch

Originally appears in the Fall 2005 issue

A crowd of kids swirled around the nature center exhibit table, grabbing up pinecones, beaver-chewed sticks, deer skulls. They were pursued by a harried chaperone, protesting: “Boys and girls! Please! Put those down! Don’t you see the sign?” No one paid attention as she pointed to the small wooden sign on the side of the exhibit. She took a deep breath and proclaimed, “Boys and girls! Where are our manners? It says, PLEASE DON’T TOUCH!”

And the students, obedient and unsurprised, put the things down. They wandered over to glance at the glassed-in exhibits, hands in their pockets, and then trickled away, and the door slammed behind them. I could hear the chaperone bellowing, “Walk! Walk!” as the students raced for the bus.

You can’t blame the chaperone: it’s a dirty job, and she’d already had a long bus ride, dispensed half a dozen doses of Ritalin, and taken a two-hour nature walk in the October drizzle. But when the crowd had dispersed I went over and looked at the sign again, just to make sure. And it read, of course, as it always has: PLEASE TOUCH.

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Anita Sanchez is the Senior Environmental Educator at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar, New York.