Being, as I am, the second of three boys in my family necessitated that I be dragged to one or the other of my brothers' baseball games on a regular basis throughout my childhood. These are the places where I did the most real growing up - that is, growing that can only be accomplished in the company of same-age peers, and in the absence of adults. This growing up came in the form of several discrete lessons, some of which will follow here, and one of which form the basis of this write-up.
First, I learned that people will give me money if I eat ants. This came with two corollaries: one, ants don't actually taste that bad, and two, people will think I am weird if I eat ants for money. These seemingly banal truths actually apply to life on a much bigger scale; It is incredibly easy to make money, but much harder to do it with dignity (and also, some things we don't normally think of as food may, in fact, be delicious.)
Next, I learned that people who ask to be your friend don't necessarily want to be your friend. I mean this quite literally; kids my age or younger would often flat out ask me "Will you be my friend?" which even at the time I considered unusually straight-forward, but nevertheless I always replied in the affirmative so as to not hurt their feelings. They would then proceed to run off and not talk to me again, leaving me utterly perplexed and incapable of performing my newfound duties as their "friend." This is of course an important life lesson, one which I have utterly failed to stop learning.
This brings me to the third lesson I will elucidate here, which is to never, ever feed the birds in the park. One day, at yet another baseball game, I bought a hot-dog at the concession stand. I took it to the playground and sat on one of the benches beside it (one of the ones usually used by adults to balance their checkbook while their kids are off playing). Having the playground to myself, I quickly became somewhat lonely, and took to observing all manner of wildlife around me. I took considerable delight in the squirrels and their playful chasing and fighting (which, in retrospect, might actually have been mating), the sparrows and their hopping and pecking at the ground, occasionally battling over a particular scrap of discarded food (even when there was plenty to go around,) and the light tingling of the lady-bug as it walked across the back of my hand. Eventually, a single sparrow decided to brave the threat of me, the big dumb human, and hop his way over to the crumbs in front of the bench where I was sitting, pecking at the ground and cocking his head up to look at me with a wary eye, then pecking once more, and looking back up. He continued this pattern, but seemed to grow more comfortable with my presence with every peck. Idly, I tore of a small piece of hot-dog bun and threw it on the ground beside the bird. He was startled at first, half-flying, half-hopping away from it. But he realized it was food, and hopped back to it, pecking it with considerable zeal. I continued to throw crumbs towards the bird, and talked to it, imagining that I had befriended it. I complained of being bored and having no one to play with, told him my name, my favorite school subject, about my family, and all manner of things. Being as eminently a good listener as I'd known, the bird remained at my feet pecking at crumbs throughout.
Suddenly, a shadow appeared beside him, quickly moving towards him and growing bigger as it came. I looked up just in time to see a big red-tailed hawk descend upon my hapless sparrow friend, clenching him in his talons (probably, and as I would later figure, hopefully, killing it instantly.) The hawk brought the sparrow up to the top of a nearby telephone pole, and began to peck at its innards in the exact manner that the sparrow pecked at the bread crumbs. As the hawk feasted on my friend's remains, he left a cloud of sparrow feathers that gently floated towards the ground like snowflakes. It might have been pretty if it weren't made out of my friend. I reacted to this event as you might expect any child to act upon losing a (real or imagined) pet: by bawling my eyes out. My parents heard this and rushed over, trying to get out of me what had happened, and I pointed at the hawk, still eating my sparrow. Eventually, through all the stammering, I got out that I had been feeding a bird, when that hawk up there ate it. They laughed hysterically (they're not usually bad people, honest!) Of course I got over it, but nevertheless this has always stuck in my mind.
I guess what I mean by all this is that if you don't know what you're doing, stay the hell away from nature, because it can take care of itself, thank you very much. This experience was such that I cringe when I see people feeding birds in the park, or see birds or other animals that clearly expect food from me and have long forgotten how to hunt it themselves. I just wish other people would realize this, e.g. these types