“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…”
The first time I read The Little Prince, years ago, I finished it and said ‘what was THAT about,’ noted that I had read it, and put it away. The second time I read the book, about 5 years ago, I said ‘what was THAT about’ and immediately began reading it again. Since that time, I have read it several more times. I’m still not sure what it is actually ‘about,’ but it is an amazing book.
The story is narrated by a pilot who has crash landed his airplane in the desert. He meets a small person that he names ‘the little prince’ who wants the narrator to draw a sheep. The little prince came from another world (Asteroid B-612) which is quite small. Through the narration, we learn that there are 3 volcanoes (2 active), 1 flower that is being nurtured by the little prince, and the asteroid is in danger of being overrun by baobab trees. There are also 44 sunsets every day!
The little prince runs away from the flower and leaves his planet with the help of a flock of birds. He visits other asteroids where he finds a king who rules over mostly nothing, a conceited man who needs to be admired, a tippler (drunk) who is ashamed, a businessman who is consumed with counting his possessions, a lamplighter on a tiny asteroid who is continually lighting and then putting out his lamp and a geographer who writes about the subject, but never explores.
Finally the little prince comes to earth where he meets a snake, a vain flower, a fox, and the narrator. The rest of the book involves the little prince’s interaction with these and culminates with the snake biting the little prince so that he can return home.
Whether you have never read the book and are going by my description or have read the book and are still confused, it doesn’t matter! As the little prince says, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves.” Certainly with nature, this is true. How much more exciting is nature when we see it through the eyes of first exploration! And “first exploration” can come every day if we are exploring with a child. Just recently, leading a nature hike in pouring rain, I was reminded that adults are aware of how wet they are getting and children are aware of how much more wet they can get!
Somewhere along the way of growing up, adults lose a sense of discovery of nature and replace it with fear. The narrator of the story says, early in the book, “…I would never talk to that person [adult] about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level.” Adults need children as companions in order to explore nature or we risk staying at a low level of discovery and adventure. Even adults who have made nature study a life-long career, like the renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, approach nature with the soul of a child even as they are collecting research for academic tomes. Otherwise, they would collect only facts (as the businessman did) and never interpret those facts to give others a glimpse into the wonder of nature’s patterns and rhythms.
A study of nature always begins with the words ‘look’ and proceeds from there. It is the observation that leads to the questioning of what is happening that leads to more observations that reveal answers to the original questions. On a hike, I listened with amusement to two 2nd grade boys who were explaining to me why they knew about everything in the woods. And to my chagrin, I now realize I was listening with half an ear because I knew they didn’t know everything. Perhaps I should have kept “listening with my eyes” more closely to see what they could have helped me discover.
“The Little Prince” is such a multi-layered book, that it may take you time to digest things. To make it easier, think about how children have helped you discover nature and share your thoughts here. “The little prince, who asked me so many questions, never seemed to hear the ones I asked him. It was from words dropped by chance that, little by little, everything was revealed to me.”